It’s almost time to make resolutions for 2014, which means it will soon be time for most of us to break those promises. Does it have to be that way?
Long-term positive changes are difficult to make. We diet for the first week of January — and then we reward ourselves with pizza. We pledge to run 10 miles a day — and go back to being a couch potato when we get shin splints.
We’ve all experienced some variation of breaking our resolutions and no, the answer isn’t to never make any resolutions. Rather, we need to figure out why we can’t keep our well-intentioned promises.
It’s simple: We don’t adopt new habits because the way we act now is more rewarding. On some level, the weight or drinking or family dynamics make sense to us. We may need instant gratification, and our current behavior provides that sensation. We may want to mask our fears or hurts more than we want to examine their causes. We may repeat familiar roles or behaviors because we are afraid to upset the status quo, however stressful or unhealthy it may be. Thus, even though we say we want to do things differently, we don’t make changes because our bad habits work for us.
As for willpower, most of us would have succeeded long ago if that were the only requirement for change.
Willpower is essential, but we need to support it with actions. If the start of a new year inspires you to make resolutions, here are some steps to help you keep them:
Clean the slate. Forget all the times you failed before. This is a new day.
Pay attention when old behaviors begin to creep in and address them right away. Don’t make excuses! Don’t be lulled into inaction!
Get support. It could come from friends, clergy, 12-step programs, a mentor or professionals; just don’t go it alone.
Practice gratitude. Write in a gratitude journal. Or, every day, say out loud the people and things for which you are grateful. As bad as things might be, you can probably think of someone or something to appreciate.
Work on accepting yourself as you are, which makes it possible to make changes that last.
Acknowledge that lasting change is slow — literally, one day at a time. If you slip, start again.
Be realistic: You might lose 5 pounds in two months, but you probably won’t lose 20 pounds in one month. Keep yourself going by achieving reasonable goals and then setting new, equally realistic ones.
Don’t focus on what you’re giving up; focus on what you’re achieving.
Make amends, as needed. Particularly when substance abuse is involved, acknowledge when you have hurt others and offer a genuine apology, with no expectations attached.
By the end of January, one-third of us will have broken our resolutions. Four out of five resolutions are forgotten within 12 months. By understanding the causes of failure and developing a powerful structure around change, your habits can switch from undermining you to improving the quality of your life.
Then you will have a truly happy new year.
Randy Anderson is the manager of Serenity Lane’s Roseburg facility. Serenity Lane is a private, not-for-profit treatment center for alcohol and other drug dependencies. More resources and tips are at www.serenitylane.org.