Resolution or Reassessment?
Whew! We made it friends. It’s literally the end of 2020. And it’s that time of year again – people are ready to make their New Year’s resolutions! There is something about the idea of being able to reset and repair poor habits that is exciting. After all, a new year is a new chance to start fresh, a clean slate right? It also leaves room for a bit of extra indulgence at the end of the year, knowing that you’re going to adhere to a healthier regimen starting in January.
Except....more than 80% of resolutions FAIL.
That’s right, the vast majority of people who decide on a resolution to commit to, never accomplish it. Disheartening right? Not if you understand why. The reason that most people do not attain their resolution goal is because they are targeting the wrong thing. And coupled with the “quick fix” mindset behind many resolutions, they’re essentially setting themselves up for failure. So let’s talk about how to set yourself up for success.
First, it’s essential to start with an evaluation of current factors and what needs to change. Beyond that though, it’s necessary to truly understand what is causing the issue you’re trying to address in the first place. For example, many folks resolve to quit drinking alcohol altogether. There are of course wonderful health benefits to reducing intake or abstaining from alcohol, and I’m certainly not discouraging this as a goal. But a portion of those individuals who set this goal will not only keep drinking but will actually drink more as part of a “rebound effect” after trying to abstain. This is definitely problematic.
The exact same dynamic occurs with other resolutions – losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking, reducing spending habits/saving money, sleeping better, and so many of the other most common resolutions. Why does this happen? Well, it’s not the intentions behind the resolution that are lacking, but rather the way that it is framed and understood. Change is rarely a result of willpower alone.
More often than not, people view the symptom or outcome of the problem and not the problem itself. Therefore, they’re targeting the wrong goal. It’s a bit like trying to stop a forest fire by resolving to reduce the smoke. Nothing will change unless the cause of the fire is addressed. Spend some time considering: what is actually causing the problem that I want to address? Regardless of the issue, ask yourself – what is this masking? Is there a stressor that you’re struggling to cope with? Is there an underlying mental health concern such as anxiety, depression, or something else which needs to be addressed? Is there a lack of support around you or another social/environmental barrier in the way? Consider your connections - frequently, the problems we have are from a lack of connection or social support rather than a personal failure. Might that be the case for you?
So often we ignore these problems by self-soothing with alcohol or other substances (including food) or by distracting ourselves through frequent activity including unnecessary busy-ness, excess spending, etc. And many times, this affects our sleep, our health, our nutritional intake, our interpersonal relationships, and more. So, what we really think is the problem is rarely the problem but rather a symptom of it. Spend some time with yourself asking what the real problem is, and target that. Maybe the reason you are smoking is because you haven’t learned to manage your stress. Perhaps the goal should be to learn mindfulness practices first. Maybe the reason you are self-medicating through food, alcohol, or other substances is because you have past trauma which needs to be resolved or your stress level is too high. Perhaps the goal should be to find a therapist who is a good fit for your needs. Maybe you aren’t exercising or making healthy food choices not because you don’t have enough willpower but because you are taking on too many tasks at home or at work which others could do instead and you genuinely have no time to attend to these issues. Perhaps the goal should be to learn how to delegate tasks….or to have a serious conversation with those who are not adequately contributing to joint commitments.
Additionally, many resolutions fail because they focus on what is negative. This is only natural – you want to change what is wrong and you want to change it quickly. But, take some time to consider what is going well for you also. What are the things that you enjoy? What brings you happiness? What is it that truly feeds your soul? Once you have identified that, ask yourself if there is enough of whatever this aspect is in your life. Maybe the goal is to increase that, instead of decreasing what you’re trying to mask its absence with.
Let me tell you something: it is absolutely okay to resolve to have more of what brings you joy. Have you considered that before? We’re so conditioned to improve based on our perceived flaws or deficits, rather than by bringing more of what we love into our lives. If nobody has told you this before now, your life is meant to be full of joy and love. It is absolutely okay to give yourself permission to enjoy life. What is it that’s holding you back? Perhaps you should commit to increasing time and energy on aspects of life which bring you happiness.
Finally, be sure to give yourself enough time. A month is rarely enough time to make a major overhaul in life. Most people commit to their resolutions for the month of January. Be gentle with yourself, remember that real transformation comes through diligence, with expected setbacks, and from a place of patience. Genuine change or restructuring could take months, even years. Are you in a space where you’re truly ready for that type of commitment? Beyond that though, set an expectation that after you have done this thorough assessment of your current circumstances, that you will need to continually reassess as well. After all, as you make changes, your life dynamics will change. And perhaps you will need to shift your focus along with that.
To recap, here is a quick breakdown of today’s discussion:
Evaluate your life for areas of change
Determine if this is a symptom of something else
Ask yourself what is the underlying problem?
Consider what brings you joy and makes you happy
Give yourself permission to increase satisfaction
Determine if you are ready for commitment to change
For my clinical due diligence, I need to remind my readers that if you are struggling with substance use, please seek guidance from a medical or substance use professional because in some instances, withdrawal can be fatal. People are often unaware that this includes alcohol, and with the pandemic there has been a significant increase in alcohol use and therefore perhaps alcohol use disorders including addiction. While I am not covering the scope of this concern in this particular post, I will encourage you to seek out professional guidance on these issues for the sake of your health. If you need assistance locating treatment options you can find them at samhsa.gov. Additionally, if you feel that you have issues of past trauma or significant concerns such as eating disorders or nutritional/health needs, please seek out an appropriate professional as needed. They could be exactly the missing piece to meeting your goal.
For my own disclosure, I have also done my own self-evaluation and reassessment of needs during this time. One of the things I have concluded is that I need to reorganize the structure of my Simple Wellness Wednesdays posts. When I set out on this adventure, I never imagined that we would be in the abysmal position with this pandemic that we are in this nation (USA) at this time. This week marks my 36th post, and I’m not sure I see an end in sight for the need to address regular mental health and wellness concerns. i am stunned and grieving along with the rest of the nation. However, what I would like to do is make this a monthly blog post instead of a weekly one, with additional posts as needed. This isn’t for a lack of need or positive feedback (thank you all who comment and inform me that this site is beneficial – it genuinely means the world to me to know that this is helpful), but rather a matter of prioritizing my own personal time. I have taken on more commitments lately and need to be able to balance them all out effectively. My commitment to social justice is both strong and ever-growing, and I have agreed to participate in weekly social justice discussions as well. Currently, these can be found on youtube here although we are still building and creating this project and it is sure to grow over time, so there is likely to be a more personalized platform soon. I would love it if you would follow us and our discussions.
In 2021, I will be focusing on streamlining my efforts to improve quality of life and spend more time with family while still engaging in the social justice activities I hold so dear – such as this blog. You can count on a commitment to have a new post on the 3rd Wednesday of every month. There may be additional posts as needed based on requests (remember – I take requests! Just email me!) or significant sociopolitical events. I truly hope that over time this blog can be a space where people can visit regularly and find insight on several issues, and so I will be focusing on structuring it to be more easily accessible while also spending some time to learn all the tech/organizational aspects which are not intuitive for me. I trust that this will be beneficial overall.
So with all of that…Happy New Year, dear readers! If nobody has told you this yet, I am so proud of you for surviving this year. 2020 has been a rough one in so many ways. But you are here, and you are alive, and everything you have done to get through this pandemic has mattered. Remember to always give yourself grace and space – grace to make mistakes, and space to grow. Be sure that any “resolutions” you plan to undertake are well thought out (hopefully this post has helped with that a bit) and include a commitment to regularly reassess your needs. Strive to increase what matters most to you.
Have a blessed 2021. See you in a few weeks.