Keeping Those New Year's Resolutions

Keeping Those New Year's Resolutions

by Thomas L. Hardin, CMT, CFP, Managing Director, Canterbury Group and David Oeschger, PhD, Clinical Psychologist

Just a few more days and we'll be raising our glasses, toasting our loved ones, and gleefully yelling, "Happy New Year!" Yes, a brand-new year is just around the bend, filled with new challenges and the possibility for change. That's why so many of us engage in that time-honored tradition: making New Year's resolutions. However, as we all know, changing old patterns of behavior is no simple undertaking, and most resolutions quickly fall by the wayside.

It doesn't have to be that way. Change is possible. Resolutions can be kept - as soon as we eliminate the one thing that stands in their way. Before we can change, we must overcome resistance, the force that blocks us from achieving the goals we define. Often it lies just outside our conscious awareness, where it exists on a cognitive, emotional, or behavioral level.

Cognitive resistance involves self-statements that sabotage healthy change: "I'm too busy," "I'll get around to it," or "No matter what I try, I never succeed."

Emotional resistance blocks change by reinforcing negative thoughts or serving as "evidence" to confirm what's in our minds. A thought like, "I never succeed at what I try," leads to the emotions of discouragement, depression, or despair. Those emotions serve to reinforce the thought, which increases the emotion, thus creating a vicious cycle that's hard to break. Emotional resistance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Behavioral resistance protects us from failing. If we don't try, we can't fail. Most people find that it's much more acceptable to attribute failure to a lack of effort than to a lack of ability.

When we allow resistance to run its course, we follow the same patterns of the past and we can expect the same results. Experiencing something new requires that we do things differently. Here are three simple keys to breaking through resistance and keeping those New Year's resolutions.

  1. Replace your resistance with determination and resolution. Expect to encounter difficulties. Be aware that self-defeating statements may involuntarily invade your conscious mind - but you don't have to accept them as representing truth or reality.
  2. Remember that emotion is unreliable, so don't give it primary significance. If you ride on emotion, whether it's high or low, your productivity will be inconsistent.
  3. Lay down an action plan for achieving your goals. Perform those actions no matter what.

We all underestimate our capabilities. Achieving our goals for the coming year - or for our second 50 years - is well within our grasp. So go ahead and make those New Year's resolutions. By following the plan outlined above, you'll be able to keep them and turn your goals to reality.