Do New Year’s Resolutions actually help us achieve a content and fulfilling life?

Do New Years Resolutions actually work?

No doubt right now I’m guessing you are tempted, like many of us to set some New Years resolutions to ensure 2017 is a much better year. I don’t know about you but I have never been sure about traditional New Years Resolutions … I’ve had a complicated relationship with them all my life and I know I am not alone.

After all my profession is all about supporting and facilitating change so I see failed resolutions every day and seek to work out what went wrong and how to redirect things. What I have learned in my work is that traditional vague resolutions are most likely to fail and lead to someone ending back in my consulting room lamenting what they did wrong and how they could sabotage themselves so well!

So is it more uncomfortable to keep doing the things we know don’t work for us or trying something new that might fail? Research seems to indicate that most of us stick with staying with what we know rather than taking a risk, so if you are one of those people that keep making new years resolutions with the hope that this year will be different stop for a moment before you do so and read on.

New Years resolutions are often based on goals you apparently should have achieved by now, the life you should be living at this age, the job and income you should have, the perfect family you should have, the house you should own, the body and fitness level you should have….the list goes on and on……. But does happiness and contentment really come from achieving all this?

It has been my experience that setting vague unrealistic resolutions that are based on societal or other’s expectations can set you up for failure, disappointment, guilt and shame when you don’t achieve the goals. Sometimes even when you do achieve these things, there is a sense that it is not enough… your body is never perfect enough and the achievements seem empty.

But if this truly doesn’t work and we don’t achieve change that is sustainable, what is the alternative?

What do all the losses during 2016 teaches us about the choices we have to live a more meaningful life

In my experience as a psychologist, 2016 has been a tough year personally for many and globally there has been a lot we would like to put behind us.

Let’s take for example the confronting reality of all the people that have died in 2016 that we may have admired. So just to name a few we had David Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

When we lose people we naturally look at how they will be remembered and start to consider our own mortality often evaluating whether we are living the way we want to live.

2016 has been a year of losing some very talented people in entertainment, many of whom were creative and brought joy to our lives, made us think, made us feel and made us laugh.

What is clear from reading their biographies is that they experienced the full gamut of emotions from the elation of performance, to successful recording, to financial success and the adulation of fans right through to depression, anxiety and disappointment.

When they fell off the pedestal or when they compromised their values, they often crashed hard and as they fell out of the public eye, experienced failure and relationship breakdowns, drug addiction, financial troubles and health problems life felt hard. Some of them like Carrie Fisher openly acknowledged their struggles with mental illness as they proudly used their profiles to break down barriers and to risk judgment as they acknowledged their own vulnerability.

Others such as David Bowie and Prince stood up for what they believed in by simply being themselves in their performance, challenging others expectations and writing lyrics or presenting themselves in ways that pushed people to the limit, challenging stereotypes and expressing diversity.

What is clear is that despite the achievement of success, of fame, of respect and adulation of others they too were prone to feelings of sadness and anxiety and were tested many times. Some used effective coping mechanisms to cope with failure and disappointment and kept striving accepting the discomfort along the way while others remained highly affected emotionally choosing short term methods such as drugs or alcohol to shut down this discomfort.

Some took years to find the pathway back to being true to themselves again.

Taking the pathway of values and embracing vulnerability and discomfort with courage

So there is another pathway other than following what we are taught is the right way to live or what it means to be a successful citizen and person. This is a pathway driven by our values, what truly matters to us and may be reflected in daily small goals and habit changes we seet ourselves.

Perhaps while grieving anyone whom you admired that died in 2016, you can remind yourself that in addition to their society endorsed success many had the courage to stand up for what they believed in, to break down barriers through their art form, to push the boundaries and to set their own agenda, no one else’s.

In doing this although there may have been judgement, criticism and attack and even failure, what they did in their best moments was show us what it means to live by our values.

This pathway is not always easy, it is not the path of least resistance. It involves embracing vulnerability and having courage. It involves being brave. In doing so we learn to live to our potential, to set goals based on what is meaningful and we learn to let others see our true selves, letting go of the masks that both protect us and hinder us in close relationships .

Living this way may bring joy and success and love, but it can also bring lots of discomfort but as I tell my clients you simply can’t have all the good stuff without embracing the reality of the other side and you are fooling yourself if you honestly believe that.

Living by your values allows you to truly be yourself and in my experience that is a pathway towards greater contentment and life satisfaction and less likelihood of ongoing feelings of depression, paralyzing anxiety or frustration.

Reflections on your 2016: Did you follow your values?

If you have the courage to be motivated by your values,you need to know what that they are first and understand their connection with your experience of comfort and discomfort.

So when you look back over the past year as we tend to do as the New year approaches, I want you to ask some particular questions to evaluate it from a slightly different perspective.

  • How often have you felt depressed, anxious and/or frustrated ?
  • Did you spend more time working or looking after others needs and little time nurturing yourself?
  • Did you set unrealistic vague resolutions/goals at the beginning of the year that set you up for failure, disappointment and guilt?
  • How much of 2016 did you spend not living it in the way you wanted to, not taking charge of what you could to use your time to live by your values rather than what society says you should do?
  • How motivated are you to try a different approach in 2017 in terms of change that will give you the chance of achieving longer lasting commitment accepting there will be discomfort along that path?

Let your answers guide whether it is the time to reevaluate how you are spending your time and energy and contemplate what could be different for 2017.

The time for change is anytime… not just New Years eve

The fact is that you are alive right now and have the privilege of being able to read this blog and be challenged with a different way of thinking about setting goals and changing behaviour within a framework of clear personal values. That is itself a gift we whom are literate take for granted.

So when you are feeling sad about one of your favourite celebrities or a loved one whom you miss, take a moment to be grateful for your life, your health and your uniqueness and then reflect on what is important to you and the choices you have right now to make your life better.

You have that opportunity to change anything, however small, any day of your life, not just when the New Year comes, however the only person that can do that is you. You have an opportunity to be inspired by those who stood for something, who took a risk to live the life they wanted to live when others told them they were mad to do so.

So…. what will your life stand for?

If this has got you curious, to find out more about how to identify your values, overcome barriers for change and set realistic small goals check out my next blog where I will explore this further. If you would like to explore a change of habits or thinking, any of our skilled team or practitioners will be happy to assist you individually and will tailor their approach to your needs in the right timing for you.


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