A New Way to Look at New Year’s Resolutions

How many times have you made New Year’s Resolutions—written them down or otherwise committed them to memory? How do you hope your resolutions will affect your life?

How many of your objectives over the years have actually become reality–which ones have been achieved? What happened to make you commit to and act on them? Did they produce the results you anticipated?

How many years have you repeated the same resolutions, thinking, this time I’ll really do it? Which goals have not been realized? What stopped you? Are your goals related to what really matters most in your life?

Start by reflecting on this past year. What were the times that were most meaningful to you? What events improved your quality of life? When something is meaningful, you have a better chance of being motivated to make it happen.

Fulfilling your goals requires a special kind of motivation. If you think you are motivated, but haven’t been successful, it may help to take a look at your resolutions from a different perspective.

For example, you want to lose weight. Your motivation is to become more attractive or healthier, yet, you have been unable to make headway. Maybe your eating habits make you feel nurtured. Perhaps eating serves as a distraction from difficult feelings you have.

In this example, it’s easy to see how your current eating behaviors could provide more immediate rewards and therefore be a stronger motivation than the potential gain from a future benefit.

Consider what other ways you can feel nurtured. Think of more effective ways to deal with your feelings. There may be other reasons you aren’t able to accomplish your goals. Exploring those reasons is an important step in removing the mental or emotional blocks and finding motivation that works.

Most people tend to focus on changing behavior, phrasing their resolutions as a To Do List: I’ll lose weight, exercise more, work harder, play more, be more patient, be nicer to___ etc. If that describes the type of list you make, consider a different perspective:

Rather than what you will do, think about who you want to be. If you tell yourself “I will be more patient,” I will not get angry as often, I will be nicer to my family,” you are still emphasizing behaviors even though you are talking about personal qualities. You need to find what’s keeping you from being more patient, less angry, or nicer.

This perspective will look more like: “I notice I get angry when_______________ . I will think about what makes me angry and find different ways to address that feeling.” This could be writing your feelings down or talking to someone you trust about where your anger is coming from, e.g. feeling frustrated, helpless, misunderstood, etc.

Another example: When I get impatient, it’s because I’m___________(tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, feeling too many demands, etc.). I will pay attention to how I’m feeling and seek ways to address those feelings in a way that will have a more positive outcome.

When you identify what you are feeling (your emotional brain) you can then move to your logical brain to figure out the best way to deal with your feelings—this is using Emotional Intelligence. If you stay more focused on what to do (logical brain) without understanding the feelings that are driving your behavior, you are neglecting an important part of who you are.

Take time to observe your thoughts. Are your thoughts stirring up emotions in you? For example, if you are thinking, “I’m just not smart enough, good enough”—or, “I’m just lazy, unlovable,” reflect on the feelings those thoughts generate in you. How do you act on those feelings?

Using the example above, your thoughts can look like this: “I really want to lose weight because I want to be more attractive and have a better chance of finding the person I want to be with.” “But wait, I’m not so great myself, who would want me, even if I were more attractive?” This reasoning will generate unpleasant feelings, and you may try to deny them by convincing yourself that it’s just your weight that is keeping you from finding and keeping Mr. or Ms. Wonderful.

Most of the articles I’ve read lately focus on setting up SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound). While this is a proven method for helping to achieve goals, it still may not produce the outcome you want. Has there been a time when you’ve set a goal, perhaps using the SMART method, and have technically been successful, but are left feeling less satisfied than you hoped? If so, this could mean you aimed at the wrong target.

What is that elusive feeling you are seeking to achieve on a more regular basis? Perhaps your goal is to feel “happy.” There is unending research and articles on how to achieve happiness—but what is that really? Some people think becoming successful at work or relationships will make them happy. For some it is being able to have more leisure time and less pressure. For others it’s just being able to feel better about yourself as a person, and for others it is finding meaning in your life.

What’s your bottom line? What are your expectations for how you will feel when you achieve your goals? Consider goals you have achieved in the past. You accomplished what you set out to–did it produce the feelings you hoped for? If so, was it temporary or more lasting? These are the questions you need to ask yourself when you sit down to write your resolutions. Focus on how you want to feel, and write down all the different ways those feelings can be generated. Give some serious thought to who you want to be as a person. What are the qualities you have that make you feel good about yourself? What are other qualities you’d like to develop to increase your quality of life?

For example, If you’d like to feel less stressed, instead of focusing on what you need to do to feel more relaxed, start with some self-reflection. Think about this past year: what was the most valuable and rewarding use of your time? What attitudes and perceptions created or contributed to your stress. What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn that will lead to a better approach to your stress? You can use this formula for any of your goals.

The Dalai Lama and others suggest it is better to seek contentment, which can produce joy, and may be more rewarding than “happiness.” Happiness tends to be transitory. It’s highly unlikely you can live in a perpetual state of “happiness.” Contentment might be more achievable and give you the state of being you long for. Contentment refers to a state of feeling peaceful, fulfilled, living your life in a way that is consistent with your truest, best self.

What has become my year-round resolution is to regularly engage in self-reflection on my attitudes and perceptions and paying attention to the consequences. It has been a path to awareness that helps me find more contentment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how successful or unsuccessful you’ve been with Resolutions and what you’ve learned from your experience.

Please feel free to share this with anyone who might find this useful.