A Shift of Mind

Rethinking the way we live.

Making New Year’s Resolutions Succeed

And enjoy the new year!

Year after year, we make New Year’s resolutions that over time wither and fade into failed attempts to transform some aspect of our lives. The goals may range from health, exercise, relationships and finances all the way to spiritual and personal growth. The moment that we elect to make a significant change, we may begin to feel a bit of an endorphin rush as we fantasize what it would feel like. Yet, what begins with hopeful optimism gets swallowed into the basin of our life’s disappointments. Once again the high derived from the vision of change surrenders to the dulled resignation of the status quo.

It’s curious as to how we try to evoke change in the same way — year in and year out — with similar results. If we conducted a survey six months after the New Year and asked people about the success of their resolutions, we’d no doubt find an abysmal rate of failure. Our struggle with change is resoundingly stubborn and scant attention is devoted toward understanding why that’s the case. Let’s take a look.

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Change begins as a thought, underscored by a wish or even stronger, an inspiration. This may set in motion an even stronger feeling, an intention. Most people find themselves somewhere within this continuum. Clearly, where you fall within that range is important toward the eventual outcome but nevertheless insufficient for an assurance of reaching your goal.

What typically prevents the success is the necessary commitment –- the vaulting into action -– that supports the transition. A number of years ago, on the occasion of my voicing a resolution —to get into shape and work out regularly—a dear friend asked me when I’d actually be doing that. I said, ” at least three times a week.” He responded with a ringing clarity, ” If it’s not in your calendar, day and time, you’re not committing to it.” He was quite right. The intention wasn’t enough.

It’s not uncommon to initiate the change, but over time we tend to retreat back into the old familiar zone and loosen our grip on the new progress. Sustaining change is most often more difficult than initiating it. This is because we haven’t fully committed to the progress. We make a bit of change, breathe a sigh of relief and give ourselves a break. And the change evaporates as we slide back into our familiar zone.

Old habits tend to die hard and the new behavior feels elusive. Our habitual patterns literally create a groove of thought, feeling and behavior. This is precisely where we get stuck. In order to disrupt our conformity to the past, we must intervene with a significant force, in which we embrace the change and nothing stands in the way. This requires embracing the disquiet of new behavior. We need to take the discomfort and make it our ally as we align with the new shift. A resolution isn’t enough; a turning point into new terrain is required with the necessary energy required to sustain it.

The commitment, if grounded in conviction, can lead to what I call a defining moment. It’s an instant in which we become so invested in the change we desire, that we commit to a turning point in our lives. We are in fact changed as of that moment. This is a defining moment in which we come to see ourselves differently, act upon it, and become transformed.

Willful Intention

The defining moment alters everything. It is the engine that drives the change. In order to access and sustain defining moments we need both the intention and the will. Let’s refer to this a willful intention. The resolution to change is the equivalent of the intention. But the willfulness is often lacking. Think of yourself at sea on a sailboat.  Setting the sail equals your intention to sail away. But you’re not going anywhere without some wind. The wind is evocative of your will. You need both the sail and the wind for movement. You require both will and intention to achieve your goals. Commit your thinking to embracing this willfulness and develop to discipline to reinforce it and you may succeed with your resolutions.

 

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Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist and marriage counselor who works toward creating resilient relationships and fostering authentic communication. His website is Melschwartz.com.

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