The end of the year can be a time for “putting to bed” the habits and traits we feel are not worthy of the persons we want to be. “Out with the old” we say and we reflect upon what we’d like to be different about ourselves and the changes we want to see. We make resolutions. We set intentions. We feel hopeful about renewal.
The changes we seek may be behavioral. I’ll eat with more attention to health; I’ll exercise more; I’ll give up drugs, not fight with my partner; follow through on projects. Some changes center around how we wish to be rather than what we want to do differently: I will be more generous, I’ll be kinder, be more open with friends.
The more specific the resolution, the more detail with which it is formed, the more success it has of becoming embedded. When desire for change is planned and behaviors can be incorporated into life style they have more chance of lasting. When we attach the resolution to times of day and week that it will be executed or implemented, when it entails the “hows” of making it happen, it can enter the brain as plan rather than wishful thought. We decide to make room for the resolution in daily life, and visualize the details of doing or being it.
Commitment to a resolution means making a place and a time for it in daily routine: I’ll exercise before work on Tuesdays or I’ll buy organic salad mix instead of frozen pizza twice a week. When these ideas are kept squarely in mind and become choices in the moment, we can follow through on their progress or chart our resistances.
Being realistic about the effort required can make the difference between a project that takes hold through the year and one that falls along the wayside. Being realistic about the number of resolutions is a factor. Making too many resolutions may be overwhelming while one or two may be quite possible to accomplish. Incorporating a resolution into a behavioral pattern requires mental and physical energy. How realistic is it to promise yourself you’ll go to the gym five days a week when the frequency has been once a month?
Convenience and staying in our comfort zones draw (seduce?) us into what is familiar. Even though we may label them “undesirable,” these behaviors become engrained because in some way they serve a need. They are the well-traveled paths of least resistance. In fact we can skirt our resistance by telling ourselves, “just 10 minutes” or “one more bite or one more drink won’t hurt.” Deciding to change, modify or eradicate a way of being and spending time requires understanding of the need it serves. Why do we isolate? Is depression a factor? For example, if video gaming takes up hours, making a choice not to play, may feel like a hole, an empty groove. The loss can be experienced like cutting off vitality and choosing nothingness--admittedly a disturbing mental state that requires patience and support.
Not surprisingly we find ways of resisting change. We avoid thinking about the limitations we impose in our relationship and the harm to ourselves--we deny negative consequences. Maybe we believe we cannot tolerate the anxiety of changing behavior, of refraining from a known pattern and facing the unknown. If obstacles become too discouraging or obstructive it may be a time to seek outside help.
To develop tolerance to think rather than act is an art: it means containing painful feelings rather than eating or drinking them away. The new rule of thumb is “don’t just do something, sit there!” It means that we don’t beat up on ourselves by calling ourselves “lazy” or “loser.” Disappointment is part of life. Success doesn’t come without setbacks and to try again is not failure. It helps to know that painful feelings don’t last forever. It also helps to have “replacement” activities that can provide a sense of pleasure and satisfaction.
There is every reason to set New Year’s resolutions. Anticipating positive change and setting goals is evidence of the life force. Hope for the New provides motivation to prevail over obstacles and release what does not work to our benefit.
Do check in to register your resolutions and concerns.
I’ll check back with you to see how you’re doing.
Happy New Year.
Janet K Smith, PhD