A New Look at New Years Resolution

New year resolutions suck. Right? I certainly used to think so.

They seem promising at first, but then soon fall back into the miserable default habits we’ve always done, with an extra helping of shame and sense of failure, and leaving you a little more drained of willpower.

It can be a little too easy to become cynical about it all, as I once was. But beware of wallowing long in cynicism.

There is still good success to be had with a fresh resolution to developing a new habit, or parting ways with an old one, if done right.

In this article I don’t go too far into specifics, but instead give you some food for thought about the value of value in choosing the type of resolution, and then more pointers about how to (or, how NOT to) follow it up.

I then offer a couple of mental exercises which should help make your resolutions sustainable and properly stick with you through to the end of 2021.

First, how not to make a resolution?

After poring over several books, dozens of contemporary blogs and articles, and my psyc masters project, I surmise there’s two main reasons a resolution will fail:

  • the resolution doesn’t deliver to your life the thing which you were expecting it to, and/or
  • the way in which you go about implementing the resolution isn’t sustainable

Or in other words, the ‘what‘ and the ‘how’.

Values-Based Resolution

The first risk of failure is often about your values, and is something that can potentially, and sometimes indeed does, sabotage almost any goal you set for yourself, from year-long resolutions right down to micro-goals to be done in the next 5 minutes.

A value conflict feels like utter deflation of willpower, over an extended period. It involves acting on something when all the while there’s a voice inside your head screaming at you to stop, to run away, to shut down.

If you’ve ever been in a period where it was really hard to get out of bed in the morning to get to work, and it wasn’t a depressive phase or your standard “Mondayitis”, that was likely a values conflict. Your tasks at work didn’t accord with something about your personal core values.

Such inner conflicts are invisible black holes that can be enormously draining, sometimes without you even realising why you feel so drained.

But, a new years resolution is something you choose for yourself. How could it possibly conflict with that deep, personal, meaningful part of yourself – your values?

Because we can often be a poor choice for what’s best for us. If you developed any new bad habit as an adult, that was a choice poorly made at the time, whose consequences unfortunately kept delivering.

There’s a number of reasons why we might choose something detrimental to us. Three main ones are:

  • you might’ve been particularly stressed when you chose it, and looking for comfort and convenience
    (e.g. trashy unhealthy dinners at the end of each workday)
  • you might’ve been susceptible to believing someone else’s values were meaningful to you
    (e.g. buying expensive clothes brands to look like that Hollywood star) 
  • you might have simply made the choice in a more immature stage of life that you’ve since outgrown
    (e.g. allowing dirty laundry stack up to something unmanageable, in undergrad days)

To find a value that you’ll stick to, it’s important to make sure it’s meaningful to YOU at THIS PHASE of life—
—not something that merely seems nice in the moment,
—not something that Elon Musk thinks is cool,
—not something that 17-year-old-you found useful and reasonable.

Match Habit-Change to Real World

If you’ve chosen a meaningful value that resounds with your person, things still may go awry if the process of change is poorly thought through.

The single most common mistake here is aiming too high, too fast. Hence, if you’ve never worked out in your life, don’t expect to begin hitting the gym 3 times a week just because your calendar says 2021.

Understand that every habit change is a REPLACEMENT process—one undesirable behaviour is replaced with another, more desirable one.

One thing that is very clear to me after working with people through drug and alcohol rehabilitation, is that quitting the habit is just half the story. With a story left half-written, your subconscious will default to a re-hash of old stories—relapse. This applies equally to all other habit “addictions”.

You need to do some lifestyle algebra.

The time and energy expenses, and maybe even the money normally spent on doing the old habit should be replaced with a healthier, more beneficial alternative.

The closer the replacement, the easier the transition, the more likely you’ll have sustained success in your habit-change.

So for example, with the intention to quit smoking, if you tend to smoke your cigarettes with some mates after work, a good replacement might be to

  • find a cooking class (replaces engagement of hand and mouth actions), with
  • a friendly social group (smoking-buddies replacement), that
  • begins at 5:30pm near your work (timing replacement).

Replacement applies also to starting new habits. To begin a daily early morning yoga routine, you may need to shorten your late night Netflix binge by one hour.

(Bonus tip: Sleep deprivation is a great way to kill your willpower! So, give your body the sleep it needs, and you’ll be much more likely to succeed in habit change)

A small sacrifice needs to be made, for the new benefits to had. But if you chose a good values-driven resolution as mentioned above, those benefits should far outweigh the pain of the sacrifice.

How to make a Resolution that fits to YOU

How to dig into the deeper, meaningful, values-driven resolutions, that you can sustain?

Here’s an exercise I’ve made which combines a tidy cognitive reframing from one of my favourite bloggers, my old professor’s motivation technique, and little bit of emotion binding I adapted from classic hypnosis.

First, let’s ensure you’re aiming for long-term and realistic results. Put to yourself this question:

“If I were to [abc] for one whole year, then I could [xyz].”

And see if you can add a schedule of regularity to the statement.

For example:

“If I were to spend just 30 minutes brainstorming one full page each day for a whole year, then I could have a rough edit done for a book.”

“If I were to phone my sister for 10 minutes each week for a whole year, then I could feel a sense of connection to her again, without having to be too involved.”

Make a note of that end result. It seems feasible, right? Not unmanageable, not demanding any superhuman levels of willpower?

Write it down somewhere if you want—the investment (“If I were to…”), and the payoff (“then I could…”).

Then, any time you feel like your motivation is flagging, do the following in this order:

  1. First, check again what that cool end result is (the book, the sibling connection, “then I could…”).
  2. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in this successful late 2021 situation.
    Really let it sink in with your imagination, notice how that feels with all 5 senses if you can, and inside as an emotion. Smile at that good feeling.
  3. Then open your eyes, orient yourself to the present reality, and check what it is you need to do to get there (e.g. 10 minute phone call, the “If I were to…”).

This exercise can be done now, to make sure your resolution follows through on a long-term and realistic aim. Or in other words, something that accords with your values.

And it can be repeated throughout the year, as a way of keeping your on-track, and re-invigorating focused motivation.

The last few steps provoke your subconscious to automatically activate itself with the task, motivated toward the end-goal. Amongst other things, it prompts something absolutely crucial which few admit, even those in the business of habit change—discontentment. Because a contented soul is not motivated to change.

Abstract is Grand, Grand is Gentle

Many people, myself definitely included, set harsh standards on themselves. When this intrudes on an intention to change habits, we’re inclined to swing between two extremes—we feel we can only either have a ridiculously huge amount of will and motivation, or else we need to fail completely and fall off the proverbial band-wagon.

To ensure a persistent and deep connection to your values, and to allow a flexibility of results, try a one-word “motto” resolution this year. Credit for part of this must be given to a colleague of mine, Lori Hammond.

Get a list of potential resolutions—changes you’d want to see happen in your life this year. You can also draw upon resolutions or other long-term lifestyle goals you’ve  tried previously, successfully or otherwise.

  1. Go over them each in turn, and imagine yourself 12 months from now and that you’ve already completed them—You’ve already done away with the old bad habit, you’ve already set up to regularly succeed in doing the new habit each day or week.
  2. In this year-from-now future, turn your attention inward and notice what sort of satisfaction, happiness, and wholesomeness you feel.
    How would you describe the emotion felt?
  3. Connect the feeling to the value underlying this experience. There’s no right or wrong answer here, brainstorm as much as you like.
    Does that feeling of security come from satisfying a value of being honest with others?
    Does that excited sort of feeling connect with an underlying importance to having a sense of playfulness?
  4. Once you’ve got a few values all together in a list, you may find a sort of “core value” that can summarise them. Or at least, one deeper personal value that really rings true for you, that might seem to underlie most of your list there?
  5. Now you’ve got that core value, turn it into a one-word motto, your guiding “word for the year 2021”. What motto would reflect your year of remaining true to that core value?

Lastly, don’t leave your word forgotten! It’s now time to “install” it—that is, to lock it into your subconscious awareness so it will run in the background as an effortless, guiding force.

  1. Close your eyes, allow yourself some moments to relax, and to connect with yourself.
  2. Then, say to yourself simply:
    “My word of the year is _____.
    Unconscious mind, will you keep this word at the front of my mind in 2021?
    Please help me remember ____”
  3. Pretend that this worked. Trust that your subconscious was paying attention, and that the motto is sitting in there as an internal guiding star, gently nudging you toward where you need to go.

The theme through all this is about getting finding a resolution that allows a consciously-intended goal to meet with your powerful unconscious. You want to support your unconscious as best you can, since this is what will be driving the habit change, this is what determines if it’s a sustainable change or not.

Any specific questions or queries, please feel free to contact me as per options shown on the main page.

Good luck, and have fun in shaping your future a little better to what is meaningful to you!