Already Blown Your New Year's Resolutions?  Here's 7 Tips From Traci Stein to Get You Back on Track

It’s that time of the year, when by some estimates, more than three-quarters of us have given up on our New Year’s Resolutions. Some of the most common changes we aim to make are to quit smoking, eat better and exercise more. Other goals may involve starting (or completing) an important personal project, making more of an effort to get together with friends, and perhaps vowing to set healthier limits with people who take more from us than they give.

We set these goals for ourselves because we believe that they will make us better in some way – happier, healthier, more productive, and so forth. And yet, most of us quickly get discouraged and slip back into familiar patterns that feel easier in the short term but prevent us from getting to where we really want to go.

Here’s where I think resolutions go awry, and how to increase the chances of success:

  1. We set goals that are too diffuse and not specific enough. For example, a resolution to “get healthier” is hard to put into action.
  2. We set goals that are too ambitious and then feel discouraged when they overwhelm us.
  3. We beat ourselves up. We make self-love conditional on achievement – and that really never leaves us feeling great about ourselves.
  4. We go it alone. Just think about how much harder it is to eat healthier at home if your partner isn’t also making that commitment.
  5. We assume that “successful” progress is linear and consistent, and we take setbacks as failures. Most people have ups and downs when changing a behavior. The successful people aren’t the ones who never struggle; they are the ones who remember that important behavior changes are almost never immediate or “perfect.”
  6. We think of goals in terms of pleasing others rather than ourselves. For example, losing weight or quitting smoking to please a partner can leave one feeling resentful, or like they are not “enough.” Feeling this way can sabotage goals.
  7. We run from the initial increase in stress that comes with most changes.

So, what can you do to make the changes that are important to you?

  1. Make your goal specific. So, although “eat less processed food” isn’t a bad goal, “commit to bringing a healthy lunch to work at least 3 times per week” is an even better one.
  2. Understand that the specifics of your plan should change as you do. So, once you’ve achieved walking half a mile, think about whether you want to walk farther, or more often, and so forth.  Incremental goals are much more doable and give us plenty of opportunities for genuine successes along the way.
  3. Practice self-compassion – treat yourself as you’d treat someone you really love. Be the loving parent, friend or coach you’ve always wanted in your life.
  4. Find your tribe. Social support is incredibly powerful – and even the more introverted among us can benefit from support – whether via a virtual community, a supportive partner, or friends who actually work toward the goal with us. 
  5. Let go of the need for a “perfect” process. You are in this for the long haul. There will be bumps in the road along the way; that doesn’t meant the journey isn’t worthwhile.
  6. Be honest with yourself. Take time to ask yourself what you want to change and why. And just as important, acknowledge what you fear about achieving your goal. All change comes with loss – the loss of a pattern or coping tool that is familiar, and perhaps resistance from people who don’t want you to change (because they don’t want to change). Knowing what scares you will help you to deal with it head on and stick with your healthy goals. 
  7. Shore up your coping skills. Whether this means meditating, listening to imagery, getting counseling, or all of these, the stronger and more centered you feel in general, the more resilient you’ll be when things feel challenging.

Wishing you a very happy, healthy, and peaceful 2020.