Solutions & Results Psychotherapy, Coaching And Counseling Services

Revisiting Your Resolution: My Top 10 List

Revisiting the Resolution:
by Robert Hartford, LICSW
February 21, 2013

February is a short month and March is nearly here.
It is the perfect time to revisit your New Year resolution. Or, if you forgot to set one this year, be happy that your oversight to set a resolution spared you the shame of failing to reach it. Now is as good a time as any, so go head and choose one, just one simple, easy, habit change with an impact.

I work with a lot of stressed out executives and professionals in Washington DC, from politicians to actors, environmentalists, bankers, lawyers, doctors, realtors and hoteliers. Some of the most common problems that they come to me with stem from stressors in the workplace, relationships or a lack of relationships. The stress often manifests in anxiety, tension, anger and depression.

Some people come in because they want more and just feel like they are not reaching their potential. Some come because they know something doesn’t feel quite right. Others want to reach specific goals and have run into obstacles that their current behaviors and strategies just aren’t working or sometimes are even working against them.

I love my job. Nothing is more rewarding to me than seeing people flourish, and begin to actualize their potential. In this day and age it is not such the stigma that it once was to see a therapist or coach. People see the value they gain from having someone to give them unconditional positive regard when needed, or a working structure when lacking in organization.

Just the other day a regional developer I’ve been working with for years was asked to share his success strategies with the other regions. When he mentioned his coach he was surprised at the reaction he received from his counterparts. “You have a coach”? “I never thought you would need a coach”. His response was, I don’t “need” a coach. I just wanted to be the best in the company and now I am.

February can be a busy time of year for me because the motivation of the new year and resolve to make changes hits the reality of life and the suction back into old patterns is powerfully strong. People often come in disillusioned and defeated.

Here is my top 10 list of reasons people don’t stick with their plan to make changes or reach their goals:
Top 10 reasons people break their New Years resolutions:
10. Shooting from the hip. Blindly shooting for goals that overreach ability and reality. Blind ambition is no more than a wish. Discover your motivation to change motivation is the fuel and the behaviors in reality are the actual change. Wishing is not enough.
9. Complicated. Overly complex goals with multiple behavior changes mean too many choices which decreases the probability that any of them will be utilized. Pick one simple behavior change and stick to it.
8. "Shoulds"and other ir-realities: Setting goals based on other what we think we "Should" do, "shoulds" that are often based on other peoples opinions and judgments is a driving force for failure.
7. Ambiguity. When resolutions are too vague we are setting our human brain up for a near impossible task to focus on the goal. The more specific the task or goal the better chance you have of achieving the new behavior. Instead of "Eat healthier food" which is vague try substituting something specific, like "I'll trade out that sticky bun every morning for an orange or banana.
6. Tying your friends or spouse to your resolution. It may start out well but it's too easy to place blame.
5. No resonance. When you set a goal that really doesn't speak to you, you are setting yourself up for failure. Find goals that have a resonance with who you are and who you want to become.
4. Self targeting. Too often people don't make space for missteps, or errors and attach themselves to a sense of perfection. Then when humanity/reality shows up they beat themselves up, put themselves down. It sounds something like "I'm such an idiot looser hopeless retch". "I'm never going to amount to anything". "What's wrong with me?" or they 'should' themselves which is like a mini self-targeting. "I never should have eaten that sundae" The trouble with this type of internal dialogue is that it not only takes energy away from working toward the goal or solving the problem, it also has the unfortunate side effect of reinforcing the very problem one is trying to solve. It gives fuel to the problem which reinforces it in our human brain.
3. Time traveling into "Ir-reality". This is a common form of self sabotage. All of us at times jump to the future with a negative prediction. "I'm never going to be able to do it". Then we time travel to our history and our mind locks in to all the times we failed in the past and with this reinforcement of the Negative Prediction, we begin to behave in similarly to the ways of the past, increasing the chance of a self fulfilling prophesy. So instead, try moving from the irrealities of the past and future, ask yourself, "what's different now?" This will help to determine what is required "now" to move towards your goal and will give you more perspective of how to get around or through the obstacles along the way.
2. Competing goals. Often a move away from one goal is simply a move toward another. Don't beat yourself up over this, it simply a choice that may even be common sense.
1. Loosing context. When you loose sight of the larger context or the bigger picture, if you will, there is a tendency to take the world "just-personally" as my mentor Yvonne Agazarian says. This often leads to anxiety, tension and depression. For example if a goal is to go the the gym before work and we slept until it was time to go to work and too late. There may be a pull to get anxious, with thought like: "I'm never going to reach my goal" and depressed, with self-targeting like: "I'm such a looser I' always fail" but on further exploration with a clear sense of the context you will often find that the context of the reality of the situation means that sleeping in was actually common-sense. Realizing something like "Oh ya, I was up until 3:00 the last two nights to make that deadline, that my boss insisted on" then maybe you can fantasize about ringing his neck and realize that sleeping in was the competing goal which is tied to survival and trumps the goal of going to the gym. So plan to get back on track using common sense and steer away from the self-targeting.

We are human after all, which is often one of the biggest challenges for people to accept about them selves. Sometimes it is as if it’s “fine for everyone else” even feeling compassion for others who are in the same boat, but not for themselves. So give yourself a break and then get back on track.