This year I absolutely resolve to…..

New YearThere’s been a lot written about New Year’s resolutions, mostly about their failures. I find people need to make goals (resolutions) as a means of evaluating success. I would imagine that the percentage of New Year’s resolutions that fail within 30 days is pretty close to 100%. I would also imagine that the reasons most resolutions fail is something that we caution against in treatment settings. The goals (resolutions) tend to be either unmeasurable or far too broad.

An unmeasurable goal would be something like “this year I resolve to eliminate the influence of all negative people in my life.” Another could be “no more drama”. The problem here is that the definitions of negative people are drama are not necessarily clear and also presupposes that the individual making the resolutions is not the negative person or the drama queen. Any goal that requires someone else’s changing or of them accepting our new behavior is probably doomed to fail from the outset. A good reminder here is that the only behavior you can count on being able to change is your own.

An example of a goal that’s too broad is “this year I’m going to lose weight”. Since the process of gaining weight has a significant number of variables (attitude, metabolism and general health being only a few) and the idea that in one fell swoop we can address all of the variables is highly unlikely. Most often attempts to lose weight or improve overall health are done using the same techniques that we’ve used in the past that didn’t work. The newest workout machine or technological breakthrough will generally have little to do with dedication and follow-through.

Remember that whatever goes on in the brain for more than two or three months the brain sees is normal and will seek to maintain. Behaviors that are begun but not carried out for more than two or three months are most likely going to be in the same round file as last year’s resolutions. The problem with most resolutions is that we expect them to fail before we start. I am reminded of one definition of insanity being the process of doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Trying to eliminate all the negativity or drama in a person’s life may result in them being extremely lonely, especially if the source of the drama or negativity is that person. Often the reason we spend so much time with negative or overly dramatic people is that there are issues in our own lives that have not been addressed. A fear of being alone or disliked is an example of an internal emotion that may contribute to keeping company with the wrong people.

In my practice I find that it is very common that people are more influenced by fear than any other single factor. It may be a fear of abandonment, a fear of being alone, a fear of being disliked or a fear of rejection. Most people generally think more negatively of themselves than other people may think of them.

I have frequently used a technique I learned in sales to help people confront their self-esteem issues. I will ask them to “bring me a list of characteristics that you believe makes you unlikable or at least hard to like. Understand that you will need to defend that list with concrete examples and I will tell you ahead of time that I like you”. Sometimes the list will include something that truly needs to be addressed but more often than not is a list of fears that the individual has not addressed.

In the case of goals that are too broad, I want people to evaluate the contributing factors. In the case of weight loss it may include an overall lack of understanding of the problem. Sometimes an issue with motivation has its roots in depressive symptoms. Often people are not aware of everything they eat so a dietary log that includes everything the person puts in their mouth for two or three days can be enlightening. Often a daily schedule of activities including eating times and sleep times will help correct the problem.

Somebody may declare that this year “I am no longer going to become intoxicated.” While in and of itself this seems to be pretty straightforward it may ignore the fact that there is an addiction issue. When I was in the Navy the first time it would have been difficult to keep this particular resolution given the fact that virtually everyone I spent time with became frequently intoxicated.

I have found that generally speaking life is really simple, not easy, just simple. When a person states a goal (resolution) that seems simple but has resulted in frequent failure, I want to know what keeps the apparently simple task from being easy to accomplish. Those are the factors that will point out pretty specifically the issues that need to be addressed.

Our desire to make resolutions is admirable but we accept failure because we have failed to define what the real problems are. These are the factors that make the simple resolution difficult to accomplish. You may be able to sort this out with a friend, a clergy member or a therapist.

Remember: It is of utmost importance that you discuss these things with people who are objective and trustworthy. Often this means talking with someone outside of your customary circle of friends or at a minimum is someone you respect that has attained the goal you seek.

If you will start with the three basic rules of no yelling, no swearing and no name-calling you will have made a dramatic step towards attaining your goals. This exercise will cause your thoughts to move from the emotional portion of your brain to the thinking reasoning rational portion of your brain. Controlling your thoughts is the most important step to controlling the outcome of your thoughts.

I would appreciate it if people who read this blog would write in with some of their struggles and their successes. One key to increasing likelihood of success is getting more than one opinion. Just like a smorgasbord offering a variety of options to satisfy hunger, group discussion can offer a variety of options to satisfy problems.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and will increase the potential for having a Happy New Year by taking steps to manage your life.