New Year, New Me – And Why This Hardly Ever Works

I’m sure we have all, at one time or another, made the famous New Years’ Resolution/s…

With very few exceptions, these resolutions never work out. And while the picture above is meant to be humorous, it is in fact scarily accurate. These are the types of resolutions we like to make; life-changing, drastic ones that set us up for failure, because simply the beginning of a new year is not enough to motivate this level of change. Furthermore, these are changes that require long-term, sustained effort in order for progress to be seen. We work best when we can see the fruits of our labors, when we receive some kind of reward for the efforts we have put in – especially when we are externally motivated, rather than internally. Yet the resolutions we make tend to take time to come to fruition and can leave us feeling hopeless and defeated if the change is not encountered quickly.

Timing is everything
Another factor to consider is that the beginning of the year is a stressful time. Many people are still trying to recover from the financial strain the holidays have placed on them. Sleeping late, making it easy, indulging in yummy holiday food and all the other goodies we might eschew during the year, is traded in for work clothes, early nights and early mornings, and hustle-bustle as schools go back, traffic gets hectic, and work stress means skipped meals, and ‘end of the month’ impecunious fare. Holidays can also be stressful in terms of rushing around trying to fit in time with family, but that is a topic for another day.

So now, on the back of all these different factors, a new year is supposed to bring about a new life? It simply does not work out this way; thus the inspiration for hundreds of these ‘ New year, new me’ memes:

Although, on the other hand, the most famous of all New Year’s Resolutions, ‘Lose weight’, is really often in response to the inevitable weight gain that comes with the combination of holidays, family, and Christmas lunches…

How then, is change possible?
One of the first things I entreat of my clients is to refrain from any radical changes, on the basis that they are much like these new years resolution – they start off well but don’t have enough substance to maintain the level of consistency needed to effect long-lasting change. Rather, changes should be made in an incremental fashion, and out of a true desire to do so, not merely because it is the dawn of a new year, and convention dictates – baby steps. Timing really is important – attempts at change will be most effective when you are at a stage in your life where you are ready to put the hard work in. This time is unique to each person, and so a fixed starting point cannot be attached to it. You are more likely to persevere with changes that you want to implement (internal motivation), and be strong in your resolve even in the face of difficulty and the absence of instant gratification, than with changes others want you to make (external motivation).

When it comes to change, don’t be too hard on yourself – you are only human after all. Set small, realistic subgoals, and allow a fair amount of time for these to be achieved. Being too hard on yourself will only end up making you feel even worse if things don’t go as planned, and can result in you simply giving up because it feels fruitless anyway. Don’t focus exclusively on the changes you’re attempting to make, to the point where you get tunnel vision and can’t focus on anything else – keep yourself busy, active, and distracted with other things, too. This takes some of the pressure off.

Most importantly, however, be prepared for mistakes and weak moments from the get-go; have grace with yourself, acknowledge that you are attempting to break a pattern of behavior that is most likely ingrained due to repetition, and be aware that you will probably backslide. Then, when you do, pick yourself up and try again. Eventually, it will be three steps forward, one back… And before long, this new pattern will become the norm, rather than the exception.

Change is as good as a holiday
Whoever came up with this old adage was most definitely on the right track – change is very good; it prevents stagnation and encourages growth. But for us humans, we don’t generally like change much. We like our comfort zones because they are, well, comfortable. However, I challenge you: Take a step outside your comfort zone. Listen to a new genre of music, try a new cuisine… Try something new. Change is hard, but it’s worth it. I leave you with this beautiful quote by John A. Shedd: