New Year's Resolution crash and burn? 5 ways to regroup.
You had the best intentions and you were AMAZING for awhile. You did exactly what you said you would do to make this the year that you changed, achieved, or created something new. But now you're stuck. Commitment is flagging and the itty bitty shitty committee in your head is going wild telling you that you've failed — making it difficult to regroup.
So what now?
First, take comfort. You're not alone. Some estimates say that more than 80% of people fail to achieve their New Years Resolutions. Next, stop taking comfort — you're 100% capable of creating what you want in your life, you just need a different approach.
In my experience, the biggest obstacle to achieving New Years Resolutions is the sheer force of will with which people go at them. John O' Donohue, poet, philosopher, and scholar sums this up beautifully.
'Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into proper shape... This way of approaching the sacredness of one's own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness... You can perish in a famine of your own making.' **
Don't perish in a famine of your own making — that sounds terrible. Instead get a (gentle) handle on what you want to create for yourself right now by trying one of the below alternatives to New Years Resolutions (that you can start at any time).
1. Start a process of discovery. Stop obsessing and start digging around underneath what you want to achieve. Whether you want to get a new job, lose weight, quit smoking, get a promotion — what are the stories you are telling yourself about why this is necessary? What are the conflicts between the various things you want to change? What is really getting in the way of what you want to manifest? What do you really want most? What would you like to know about yourself?
2. Set an intention. Setting an intention has become a more common concept with the growth of yoga and meditation — but what does it really mean? For me and my clients setting an intention involves looking at what we want from more than one angle. For example, if you would like to be in a new job this year is your intention only to get a new job? What for? So you can make more money? Make your best contribution? Receive the recognition you deserve? Be at peace while you work? Have more balance in your life? Ask good questions and set an intention that captures the biggest version of what you want in your life. By reflecting on what's underneath our resolutions and desires we can often find more than one path to getting there, capture the gifts of the transition, and better articulate where we are headed to those who can support us. Intentions can also be deliciously vague. Something like 'invite more love into my life' can be a mantra that opens you up to many more possibilities than 'find a new partner.'
3. Set a longer-term goal. How far out can you imagine yourself? Go there and work your way back. One helpful way to do this is with metaphor, simile, or symbolism. What's a metaphor for where you are now? What's a metaphor for where you would like to be? Recently a client told me at work they were like a reluctant gangster in cement boots. That's a very clear picture. When I asked them to describe where they would like to be ... like a free solo climber scaling El Capitan (!). The great thing about thinking this way is that it gives you more access to information about yourself. My client realized that he wasn't afraid of the hard work to get where he was going, that he would invite certain amount of fear and strain if necessary, and that bolstered his confidence to take the next step — despite the weight of those cement boots. Big steps like career change, geographical moves, retiring happily, feeling healthy, can take a series of small steps with a longer-term big picture in mind.
4. Set goals as guidelines that you'd be okay falling short of. I know this is blasphemy in our achievement culture, but so be it. A friend recently told me that she wanted to read more books this year. Forty is her goal, but if that doesn't happen that's okay, it'll be fun to try. What would it be fun to try? Are there goals you can set that the process of reaching would be bring you joy? Last year I set a goal of getting to more National Parks. I ended up with much greater awareness and curiosity wherever I went of protected lands nearby, and learned of some lesser known places that I added to my wish list. It also resulted in my seeing the mighty Redwoods of California for the first time in years, a trip that would have seemed very much out of the way had I not had important 'goals' to achieve.
5. Resolve not to change anything. (hint: it won't work) Change is inevitable. It's the only thing we can actually count on. But resolving to be at peace where you are for time and better notice and understand where that is, can open up new possibilities. What might help you figure out what to do next? Reflection? Gratitude? Self-trust? Sometimes it can be as simple as noticing and recording what's happening in a very conscious way. I had client once decide to 'log' in a small notebook every time his colleagues really aggravated him and made it hard for him to work. He would write it down but take no other action in response. Over time, this practice helped him notice patterns in his own behavior that were actually encouraging and worsening behaviors in others that were frustrating him. What would you like to pay more attention to? If you were going to make an effort to 'log' something what would it be?
Whatever you decide to do. Give yourself a break. You have everything you need to find your way except perhaps an accurate sense of the timeline. So, be gentle with yourself and tell the itty bitty shitty committee in your head to sit down and be quiet.
p.s. If your resolution is to lose weight I recommend the book Intuitive Eating, making peace with your beautiful body, and visiting the Redwoods.
*Photo by Matthew Henry
** O'Donohue, John. (1997). Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. HarperCollins.