The Resolve in Resolution

It’s nearing a month since the ball dropped, how are your resolutions developing into the New Year? One of the things we do with a New Year’s resolution is mark that time has passed, and, in doing so, has changed us. So, we thought we’d touch base with you to discover how your thoughts on personal change are developing now that we are just a few weeks into that New Year resolve.

A resolution is a way for us to take hold of change and have a stake in the way our time passes – it’s kind of a big idea, so it isn’t any wonder that we seem split on our commitments to making and keeping those New Year’s resolutions – about 45% of Americans make them every year, and about 38% refuse to even consider the thought of doing so. And, all told, only about 19% of folks make resolutions they keep as a permanent change in their habits, personality and character.

Part of our low success rate probably has to do with the somewhat arbitrary way we approach this concept of permanently changing ourselves – once a year, after a two month long holiday season (in which we tend to overstretch, overdo it, and develop a heightened level of stress) and a huge party that lasts into the wee hours of the night. Psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania call these “temporal landmarks” – personally or socially relevant life events that we experience or celebrate as days on a calendar that “stand out.” Usually, when we think of sustainable change, we think of something carefully considered, studied, planned and acted on with focused deliberation. But, research seems to indicate that, despite their somewhat chaotic nature, these “temporal landmarks” compel us into action much more than the daily grind of practical, planned and plotted life.

As you might expect, making choices about our lives this way can be problematic. Child and Family Therapist, Tracy Thompson warns that oftentimes these collective experiences of a need to change, are, in all actuality, a shared reaction to a culture that consistently teaches us that we are, ourselves, somehow lacking. “When I think about resolutions I find that it is another way for our culture to breathe into us the idea that we are not enough. We are not enough unless we are skinnier, smarter, healthier, faster, more successful. This culture of scarcity has taken us away from the truth that we need to be nothing more than what we already are.”

Though there are certainly times that shifts in our behaviors are necessary or at least could be helpful, Individual and Couple’s Therapist Tacia Knoper also advises that, “When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, it is important to know what you are being motivated by. For some, this time of year can be a way to give attention to a habit or trait that they sincerely would like to work on. For others who may be motivated by the shame of a feeling of not measuring up to where they think they “should” be, this can be one more way that they set themselves up with unrealistic expectations and end up making themselves feel even worse.”

To avoid this, Individual and Couples Therapist LeAnne Jansen says that if we are really facing a situation where we want to make a change, thinking about the tone that our motivation speaks to us in can help us determine whether a change is authentically good for us. “When I make resolutions, I ask myself regarding the particular resolution or goal I am seeking: What is motivating me to change? If my motivation is negative or “should based,” my chance of real change is pretty unlikely. If I am motivated by positive aspects, change is more likely. It’s all about the image we place in our head and the tone of voice we hear in our head.”

That tone can tell us a lot about where a given resolution might come from, and can not only predict our chances for achieving it, but can let us know if it’s a resolution we should take seriously, LeAnne explains, “For example, say I want to increase the muscle tone of my body. I can approach this in a couple of ways. I can say, “I am fat. I should lose weight.” When I think about this, totally negative imaging controls the way I am able to consider the goal of changing my body’s shape. It’s like standing in front of a carnival mirror naked, and the voice that tells me those things is just about as comforting. It’s like wagging a finger at myself as if I was a naughty child. Fat! Fat! Fat! And…to be honest, it makes me want to run to the kitchen and stuff myself with cookies.”

The same goal, however, could have a very positive tone, and could spring from a genuine desire for a new set of possibilities, “I would love to be able to run and jump and play with my one and three year old grandchildren. Because my knees are giving me a rough time, though, I struggle to get off the floor. A few less pounds putting pressure on those knees, and I will be more agile. I can picture myself dancing and leaping with my little darlings. I can do this for them and me! Just many small steps of movement and a shift in eating choices and I will be dancing again! Beautiful image, kind and gentle tone.”

When I think about resolutionsi find it is another way for ourculture to breathe into us thatwe are not enough.Chances are, if your motivation to change sounds like Darth Vader and makes you feel inadequate, then it’s likely coming to you by way of unhealthy social pressures. If, however, you look into life and imagine new horizons and new possibilities for reaching your full potential, and it sounds just like the sort of person you really understand yourself to be, then maybe taking the time to adjust to the focal point of that motivation is a good and healthy plan.

Another thing to keep in mind as you look back on those lofty resolutions and the high spirited moments you had them in is that, chances are, you didn’t determine that you would approach your life with that resolve alone. You were probably with friends or family, you were probably at a New Year’s Eve gathering. So, if you’re struggling to maintain the energy you need to overhaul some part of yourself, it’s good to remember that you don’t have to do that by yourself either. Men’s Resource Center Director Randy Flood says that “To ask for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but wisdom in knowing that we are not walking this path of personal transformation and betterment alone. I think resolutions uttered in a silo without sharing it in community with others have less probability of having a good outcome. If it’s a true resolution, it often comes from past failures, fits and starts, and thus we need greater accountability and support.”

In a way this is the balance we have to work with when parsing out the efficacy of our resolutions and determination to make themcan they make me a more vibrant, effective participant in my life and my community? Or, am I experiencing some other pressures from my community that make me feel inadequate? If yours are resolutions that provide you with a sense of authenticity and you feel like you can strengthen your community when you share with them, chances are, you are making the right choice. If they are resolutions that make you feel shame in your community, sound like a tyrannical super-ego, and give you a sense of inadequacy – it’s probably a better plan to learn how you can just be you and find comfort in that.

If you’ve found a resolution that strikes a good balance and need a little advice with how you can stick to it – stay tuned next week for some holistic tips from Rosalyn Baker, Neurotherapist and Counselor with The Fountain Hill Center. As always, when you need support choosing and keeping resolutions, the Fountain Hill Center is here to support your next step.