As the New Year approaches, many of us will be sitting down to reflect on 2013 and create resolutions for 2014.
Of course, many of us also have gotten cynical about setting goals. We’ve read the stories about failure rates. And we probably have first-hand experience of our personal resolutions not working out.
But there’s usually a good reason — several of them, in fact — behind unsuccessful resolutions. And it’s not because you lack willpower, self-control or discipline. (Who wants to follow such punitive goals, anyway?)
And it’s not because you aren’t strong enough or smart enough or capable enough or whatever enough.
Here are three traits of resolutions that rarely work — along with some expert insight into what does.
1. It’s a “mega-resolution.”
Psychotherapist Sarah McKelvey, MA, LPC, regularly sees individuals pursuing what she terms “mega-resolutions.” These are the goals that call for overhauling your entire life. For instance, you’ve decided that you’re going to be 100 percent organized, all the time, she said.
These are the goals that require all the stars to align. You must be in a good mood, win the lottery and be on vacation, said Deb Burgard, PhD, FAED, a psychologist specializing in eating disorders and one of the founders of the Health at Every Size® model.
“In other words, it would require you to sacrifice everything else in your life and have perfect luck to accomplish.”
These unrealistic resolutions set us up for defeat and disappointment, McKelvey said. They lead us to engage in our old coping strategies “usually the very habits and tendencies we are intending to break.”
2. It’s inconsistent with your lifestyle.
For instance, in the past, McKelvey has tried to scale back on seemingly frivolous expenses like the flavored lattes she drinks a lot. “But it never works because it’s not just a simple beverage choice, but is wrapped up in a lifestyle choice that holds a lot of value for me.”
She spends many of her days in coffee shops, writing, working, socializing and contemplating. “My resolution works against me and the life I’ve created.”
3. It’s missing the groundwork.
Massively ambitious ideas with very little preparation don’t work either, according to Burgard. With these kinds of resolutions, people adopt a “just do it” attitude, she said. They expect themselves to follow through without much support.
“Then in the heat of the moment you are at a loss for how to actually carry out the logistics,” which triggers you to blame and berate yourself. “The whole highly unpleasant experience becomes something to avoid rather than a series of course corrections and learning experiences over a long time.”
So what makes resolutions successful?
According to McKelvey, effective resolutions are the “smaller, more manageable shifts, tweaks and adjustments that help improve the quality of our lives.” They’re based on your core values and priorities.
It’s also key to assess and acknowledge your feelings around your goals, Burgard said. How do you feel about this potential change? How will you feel when you can’t do what you typically do?
Plus, it’s vital to consider how you can make your goals “as fun, rewarding and supportive as possible.” Leave room for feedback, flexibility and revision, she said.
McKelvey supports and nurtures her clients’ growth. But she also stresses the importance of relaxing into who they already are. So often, we operate from a “task-oriented, accomplishment-driven” place. We do. However, it’s important to create space and give ourselves permission to just be.
For instance, as a cyclist, McKelvey knows the value of training at your peak performance. But she also makes sure she’s not doing too much. “[I] allow myself to relax into the cycling competence and capacity I already have — simply enjoying my time with my beloved Cannondale companion for its own sake, for the beauty and enjoyment of having an experience and simply being alive.”
Also check out: 6 Steps to Making New Year’s Resolutions That Work