auld lang syne
Revolutionary resolutions: Try reinforcing the good rather than changing the bad
The end of December is that time of year when Americans especially start obsessing about how they plan to change their lives. For some, it's about instituting new behaviors; for others, severely limiting them. A new year gives us the hope of a brand new body, mind and soul. If only we can find the requisite persistence.
But what if we did something revolutionary for 2012 and took this time to start accepting and affirming where we're at rather than focusing on what we need to change?
It's natural to use the calendar's annual shift as a marker for assessing your progress in life. We can universally agree that another numeric year has passed. But so many of us use New Year's as justification to fixate and freak out on the tragedy of what we haven't accomplished rather than what amazing things we've done. A simple perception shift can radically transform your resolution outcome.
Framing a resolution as a "problem" that needs to be "fixed" sets you up for a perpetual battle against your own willpower. Even if progress is made throughout the year, the fear is present that this lurking behavior will rear its ugly head and knock you back down again. Soon, you're back to rebuking yourself, and hopeless frustration quickly creeps in.
Instead, try positively framing your resolutions to encourage those behaviors that make you feel happy, healthy and fulfilled.
Since exercise and weight gain are typically at the top of most Americans' lists, this is the perfect instance to exemplify this frame shift. Rather than identifying instances of failure that made you feel bad from the previous year, try focusing on the times you succeeded and felt great. Perhaps there were workouts that proved particularly exhilarating, or compliments you received from trainers or loved ones.
Avoid phrasing the resolution as a fixed negative, and instead phrase it as an optional positive. Instead of "No more fast food," (which is just going to gnaw at you every time you drive by a Whataburger at 11 p.m. when the honey butter chicken biscuits start calling), try saying, "I know that I feel better when I eat real food, so I'm going to try eating healthier this year."
Listening to our positive feelings is often harder than internalizing the negative ones, and we're generally our harshest critics. So it's up to you to give yourself a break and practice hearing the compliments over the criticisms.
Since most resolutions fall under the categories of either stopping a behavior or repeating a behavior, the success of a resolution depends on whether you enjoy fulfilling it. Wouldn't you much rather fulfill a happy resolution to make yourself feel better? If you feel trapped by a rule, you're more likely to rebel and break it.
As someone who used to work closely with recovering addicts, it's imperative to also point out that some behaviors we resolve to quit are actually full-fledged addictions. This might be a time to honestly catalog your behavior and ask yourself if what you're trying to reduce is actually something you really cannot. In that case, there's a who lot more work to be done than making a friendly New Year's resolution.
If you're wondering, I've never really practiced making resolutions because I'm a closet rule-breaker, especially when it comes to my own self-made restrictions. But working towards increasing my own happiness and seeking out those behaviors that make me feel better? That's something I can happily resolve to do.