With the start of another new year, many of us find ourselves focusing on things we’d like to change in our lives – many of us call these changes New Year’s Resolutions.
Popular points of focus include health and wellness, career goals, financial management, and planning for the future. These are all very important things to evaluate regularly, and the beginning of a new year seems like a particularly appropriate time for evaluation and reflection. However, we fail to actualize the vast majority of our resolutions, and this failure has a great, negative emotional impact. This isn’t usually because of a lack of planning or resources to achieve our goals.
Rather, it is because we lack awareness of the emotions driving us to make resolutions to change.
One of the clearest examples of this is with the proverbial commitment to eat better and lose weight. Many of us overindulge, stress eat, or “reward ourselves” over the holiday season at the end of the year and then subsequently attempt to restrict our eating to healthier options or simply less volume overall in the new year. We tell ourselves, “Well, I’ve had mine. Now it’s time to be good.” We say we will “eat right” as if we were being bad or wrong previously and really knew it deep down the whole time. This idea carries with it a subtle, or for some not so subtle, emotional sense of failure already. In addition, we may not acknowledge to ourselves the probability that we will eventually fail again, sooner or later. Many of us reach this point and chuck in the towel. The discomfort of making a change or the powerlessness we feel from our failures kills our energy and motivation to try again. In the same way, our career has stalled for circumstances out of our control or our financial burdens may seem too great or confused even to attempt to overcome. All or even one of these things can be enough to leave us feeling isolated and hopeless.
There is not a simple answer or solution to these problems, but a great place to start is by asking what emotion is motivating the resolution or desire to change. It may be based on a negative view of self; for example, someone may feel that less valuable as a person because of dissatisfaction with his or her physical appearance. A negative view of others may also motivate a resolution; for instance, it may stem from a desire to outperform a colleague. Success at these kinds of resolutions will only reinforce the negative view of self or others. It will validate the first negative, emotional experience as true. The person who had a negative view of self may feel more valuable after changing his or her appearance, but that only confirms the feeling that he or she lacked value before. The person who wanted to outperform a colleague may feel even more contemptuous of the colleague after surpassing him or her. On the other hand, failure often drives the negative emotional impact even deeper. We can come away feeling even worse about ourselves or more embittered toward others than when we started.
This year, you might try making a few resolutions intentionally with positive emotional foundations, instead of recriminating ones. The health and wellness resolution has always proven the most difficult for me to keep, but this year I am reframing my resolution. I am going to give myself the opportunity to eat more healthy foods and exercise. I know when I am doing so, I have more energy and feel more positive generally, but I am also giving it as a gift to my family. Now more than ever I need to be present and active in their lives as my daughter begins to crawl and walk. I want to give her as much of my energy as I can. Try writing out your positive motivation on a flash card you post in your kitchen or bathroom. Go back to it as often as you need to.
And if you find yourself struggling to keep it, remind yourself that every new sunrise, and not just the new year, brings a fresh chance to recommit ourselves to living our lives in a way we choose, not only for ourselves but also for those we love.
By Sam Bearer, PLPC