Now that we are well into the first month of a new year, let me ask you; how is that New Year’s Resolution going? Are you keeping it? Are you beating yourself up for not keeping it for more than a few weeks? If the answer is yes to that last question, you are not alone.
Despite good intentions, according to a 2013 Forbes article, only 8% of us achieve our New Year’s Resolutions. Why? The reasons vary, but the overarching one is that we simply set unrealistic goals. Most of us are in a highly altered emotional state during the holidays, whether it be extreme joy of the season, or extreme sadness during that time of year. Either way, when we are experiencing extreme emotions, we tend to make extreme decisions. Like how much we want to change about our lives. It happens to about 40% of the population – another 2013 statistic by Forbes on how many of us actually make those resolutions. I don’t think much has changed about this aspect of human nature in the last two years.
If you are in the 92% category of those who feel like a failure right about now, take heart! The year is young, and you still have lots of time to do things differently. So much of what we do is tied into what we think, feel, and believe. What my experience in the field of mental health and human behavior tells me is this: The key to creating positive change lies in three things: Discipline, Flexibility, and Optimism.
Hope whispers, you can do this!
Discipline: Let’s face it; if you want to change something, you have to work at it. Most resolutions involve a degree of difficulty when it comes to breaking bad habits, and building new healthier ones. Resolutions are built on the idea of change. Nothing beats good, old fashioned hard work, which requires discipline when most of us have a million things competing for our time, attention, and energy every day. When it comes to goal achievement, discipline embodies practicing persistence and self-control. These often are not enjoyable in the moment, so many novelty seeking resolution setters drop their well-intentioned goals when they aren’t having fun anymore. If you’re looking for a shortcut, your resolution might not really be as important to you as it was when you made it. Ask yourself right now if you are willing to work hard to achieve it. If not, it may be time to rethink it, which requires flexibility.
Flexibility: We can be disciplined all we want and if the goal is unrealistic, other priorities will dominate, and the goal falls by the wayside – into that 92% file. The secret is to exercise discipline from the very outset of your resolution, by committing yourself to a realistic goal. This may require some flexibility in your thinking, if you are the type of person who wants to hit the ground running. That age-old principle of baby steps is a good thing, not a wimpy thing. Babies would never learn to walk if they declared, “skip this crawling stuff, I’m just going to will myself to hop from my belly straight to my feet, and make a run for it.” Ask yourself if your resolution is truly attainable given your time, resources, responsibilities, etc. This may require some reexamination and then acceptance of something you realize that you actually cannot change, (having more than 24 hours in a day for instance, or the way someone else treats you) so that you can adjust your expectations and your resolution into baby-step-size more attainable goals. Acceptance is flexibility at its finest. Practice it by giving yourself grace when you have an off day, and begin again tomorrow.
Optimism: Yes, what we believe matters! Our mental state can drive our ability to achieve. The mind-body connection is incredibly powerful. I’m not saying that sheer belief that we will achieve something, makes it so –wouldn’t that be the ultimate magic bullet? However, a positive attitude directly impacts our drive, and is an important part of the formula, combined with discipline and flexibility when it comes to achieving our goals/resolutions. Many experts in the field of mental and behavioral health consider hope a form of optimism – and a value we can choose to live by. I could quote studies all day long on the research that indicates how the power of positive thinking decreases stress and depression, improves physical health and mental clarity, and generally enhances your performance at just about everything you do. Optimism is about more than just being happy – the truth is you can be optimistic without feeling happy. Focusing on the positive, no matter what the circumstance is a discipline and a valuable life skill – one that can assist you in achieving your goals. Though you cannot control every thought that comes into your mind, you can choose what thoughts you are going to focus on. The thoughts you feed will survive; the ones you starve (i.e. ignore) will eventually die. Do you believe you can achieve your goals? If not, you are setting yourself up for a struggle before you even begin. Start with finding one positive in your goal, and focus on that.
My New Year’s Resolution this year is a bit unconventional. Rather than resolving to change something, I have resolved to accept some things that I cannot change. As far as resolutions go, this may sound like a cop out to some, but it is actually going to require much discipline, flexibility, and optimism on my part to practice radical acceptance in a few situations that are greatly impacting my life currently – situations that I cannot control or change. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you agree with something, or even that you are saying you are okay with it; it simply means you acknowledge that you cannot change it, and you are willing to move on from it. Often times, when we struggle to control something we cannot change, it ends up controlling us, driving us into an unhealthy emotional and mental state, as well as unhealthy behaviors. Radical acceptance is my goal this year, and one that will help me to move forward, rather than staying stuck in unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Resolutions are about helping us to move forward in our lives, into healthier places mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally. What will you resolve to do differently this year as you consider the path ahead of you?