The Problem With New Year’s Resolutions
A few months ago, my client Carol approached me with a request.
“I need to talk about an problem in my business.
“The problem is my weight. I’ve gained about 30 pounds over the past 2 years, partially due to menopause.
“When I have to get in front of a room and give a presentation, people expect me to look a certain way. They expect me to look polished.
“And with the 30-40 extra pounds I’m carrying, I don’t feel polished. I feel shlumpy.
“I’ve noticed that I’m starting to rush through my presentations because I want to stop being the center of attention as soon as possible. How I feel about my body is really starting to affect my work.”
Carol took a breath and continued, “I want to make a New Year’s Resolution right now. I have to lose at least 30 lbs. I need this for my career.”
I asked Carol, “How have you tried to address this in the past?”
She paused for about 30 seconds then answered, “Losing 30 pounds has been my new year’s resolution for the past 2 years. And for the first 2-3 weeks of January, I do pretty well watching my diet and exercising.
“But then work starts getting busy and I revert to eating out. Or I’m tired or it’s cold outside and I don’t want to get out of bed to go the gym.
“By the time I’ve eaten 3 or 4 crappy meals, and missed about the same number of workouts, I feel like a failure and I quit.
“I’m a really motivated person. Why can’t I do this? I know something needs to change but I don’t know what it is.”
Most of us look at New Year’s as an opportunity to change something for the positive in our lives by setting a resolution.
But most resolutions fail because of what I call ‘mindset mistakes’ — your mindset is a collection of the thoughts and beliefs that control your actions — and in Carol’s case she had two:
1- Using fear as a motivator to create change.
2- Thinking of a resolution as a test that is pass/fail, rather than something you practice.
Carol’s situation highlights how these two mindset mistakes were blocking her from achieving success.
Using Fear As A Motivator For Change
When I asked Carol why she wanted to lose 30 pounds, she said, “I want to stop feeling bad about myself….I just feel ashamed when people look at me.”
Carol’s shame was triggered by a fear of unworthiness. This fear was fueling her desire to change.
Fear is a physiologic response that helps you take action to keep yourself safe in the short-term, but it is not a long term strategy for change because it doesn’t allow you create new behavior patterns.
Fear locks your brain into two responses — one mental and one physical — that work directly against behavioral change.
The mental response is activated by the language you use when you are in fear.
Carol’s words of “I’m tired of feeling unworthy” triggered her brain to create mental pictures that illustrated her fear of unworthiness.
These words generated a mental slide show of schlumpy-ness.
In addition to the mental images created by your brain, the fear activates a survival response in your body called your fight or flight response.
As I wrote about when I described the four dysfunctional behaviors of stress, this physical state narrows down your possible actions to four options: fight, flee, freeze or fool around.
Carol chose to flee.
She stopped going to the gym and stopped trying to eat well. She didn’t engage any more with her resolution.
She gave up.
Achievement-oriented vs Practice-oriented Change
The second major mindset mistake Carol made (that many others do as well) was thinking of her resolution as a test, rather than something that she would keep practicing.
When you think of your resolution like a test, you either succeed or fail.
Carol stopped trying after 3 or 4 “failures” around changing her eating habits and going to the gym because viewed through the lens of a test that you pass or fail, she had clear evidence that she was failing.
People who keep their new year’s resolutions don’t fail less in the beginning than those who quit, the difference is that they keep trying.
They view their resolution as something that they have to practice, like yoga or another hobby.
A practice is something that by definition you keep doing as you work toward mastery of the skill or behavior.
Create An Intention Rather Than A Resolution
Instead of making a resolution to lose weight, I suggested that Carol set an intention that would support the change she wanted to create.
Carol’s intention was “I want to nurture and take care of my body to help it get healthier.”
Making the shift from a resolution to an intention overcomes both mindset mistakes that are inherent in resolutions.
First, Carol’s intention to take care of her body created positive mental imagery that supported her actions of eating well and going to the gym.
This positive focus also shifted her internal feelings from “schlumpy” to “nurturing”.
It’s much easier to stay connected to a goal that brings up the feeling of “nurturing” than that of “schlumpy”.
Second, when setting an intention, by definition you are creating something that is “a thing intended; an aim or plan.”
Aiming for something, like the target when you play darts, means you continue to aim and take action (throwing the dart) repeatedly until you reach the target.
Setting an intention around a goal is the same. You continue to aim and take action until you reach your target.
Taking The Next Step
My challenge to you is to create an intention this year instead of a New Year’s Resolution. Then please share it with me by either hitting reply to this email or sharing it on my Facebook Page.
I’d love to support you in reaching your intention!