New Year’s resolutions fail. Why? Because we feel emotionally compelled to create these intentions following a festive period that incites indulgence. Over-indulging in ways that we are not used to can leave us feeling that we have maxed-out our health, waistline, bank balance, and can also rattle our relationships, leading to feelings of guilt, shame and a lack of self control. In sharp contrast to this period of excess and in an attempt to get rid of these feelings, January is often a period associated with restriction: of money, food, alcohol, etc. Too much restriction can lead to a lack of energy which is not conducive to generating the motivation required to make lasting behavioural change.
If you want to improve your self or aspects of your life, you will have more success if you attempt this from a balanced mind-set, rather than an emotional, behaviourally restrictive response to the excesses that have preceded your intentions. Notice how you resolve to give up drinking whilst you have a stinking hangover? Or how your new diet and exercise regime will start ‘on Monday’, following a fun weekend? How successful have these resolutions been for you? If they have worked for you, then great, no need to read on, but for many these kinds of resolutions often don’t last and result in feelings of failure.
If, following a period of excess, you are usually inclined towards restrictive resolutions, in three simple steps, you can learn how to break the resolution rules by embracing an emotionally intuitive mind-set and developing growth goals.
3 steps to re-frame restrictive resolutions
Step One: Observe the effects of over-indulgence for a while longer than usual. What feelings do you notice that are associated with over-indulgence? Guilt? Shame? Physical sensations such as bloated-ness? Anything else? Make sure you journal this step, and rate each feeling and sensation on a scale of 0-10.
Rule-breaker: Wait a couple of days, without making any changes or resolutions to change! This allows for tolerance to develop, and avoids you resolving to make emotional, behaviourally restrictive goals that are based on denial and self punishment.
Step Two: Return to your journal. What are you noticing in response to what you have written? What are you feeling now? There may be new feelings and sensations, so make sure that you re-scale your identified feelings and scale any new feelings between 0-10.
Rule-breaker: Resist the temptation to attempt to re-gain control by setting a behaviourally restrictive resolution (e.g. “I will lose ten pounds, I will give up chocolate, I will give up alcohol”).
Instead, develop your emotional intuition by taking the feeling that is scoring highest (for instance, ‘shame’), and rather than trying to get rid of this feeling through denying yourself, identify an opposing positive state that you want for yourself instead. Examples instead of ‘shame’ may include ‘sense of pride’, ‘sense of self satisfaction’, ‘sense of achievement’. Visualise yourself feeling this way and notice what arises in your body.
Whatever it is that you want to be feeling about yourself, put it into a positive and present tense statement (for example “I feel a sense of achievement’) and say it out loud. Notice how you feel as you make your statement. You may need to repeat this a few times to make it feel more real.
Step Three: Now list all the steps you can take that will help you to feel what your positive statement intends for you (e.g. to feel a sense of achievement you may list things such as: exercising 10 minutes per day, crossing items off my to-do list, keeping a journal, allowing myself only one treat per day, etc). List as many as you can, without limiting yourself. This is the behavioural aspect of your goal, i.e. the things that you will do in order to move you towards your desired positive emotional and physical state.
Identify one step that you will take TODAY, and do it. What do you notice about how this feels? How motivated do you feel towards continuing to take steps towards maintaining that feeling?
Commit to taking one of your steps each day and making time to reflect upon the impact this has upon you (and others).
As you enter the new year, the key to self-improvement is to identify sustainable growth goals rather than restrictive resolutions. Focus on identifying what you want, from a place of compassion, rather than self-punishment. Taking small steps to self improvement leads to lasting change, self satisfaction and increased confidence.
Timing is everything
To develop growth goals, you can’t project your actions onto the future, e.g. “on Monday” or “2nd January”. You need to show up today! The improved you takes steps NOW.