Many people are now looking to the new year and thinking about their resolutions or, perhaps, their theme word for the year. I’m all for changing your life and making your goals happen, but I’m not a believer in new year’s resolutions. There are three good reasons why you may want to reconsider making resolutions this year.
First, there is more to changing your life than acknowledging you want it to change. When I was young, my new year’s resolutions read more like a wish-list than a self-improvement plan. Although I wanted to change, I didn’t consider how to make it happen. I’m older now, and earlier this year, I decided that I wanted to change some things in my life. As I thought about it, I realized that there were habits underlying the behavior I wanted to change. How do I break a bad habit?
My first step was to research habits, and I read The Power of Habit: Why We do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. (If you think you don’t have time for this, I recommend the audiobook. I listened to a copy from my local library during my commute for a couple of weeks.) The Power of Habit gave me a much deeper dive into the subject than I expected, and it was a lot more interesting than I anticipated. The case studies were diverse and well chosen. I learned that I shouldn’t try to break my habit – I should bend it. I found the triggers for my bad habits and, knowing that the triggers were powerful, I didn’t touch them. Instead, I found new behaviors for them to produce. I learned that the new practice needed to bring a feeling of reward, just as the old one did, but more constructive. I wasn’t sure that I could really change my habits, but Duhigg discussed the theory that discipline is a like muscle; if you’ve developed discipline in one area of your life, you can apply that trait to other areas as well. To my surprise, I found he was right, and I changed some lifetime habits using what I learned in his book.
The second drawback to new year’s resolutions is that they encourage people to bite off more than they can chew. A list of things can be too much to take on all at once, so when I had a laundry-list of resolutions, I was setting myself up to fail. Some people are intimidated by working on too much at once, so they just choose a theme or a word to guide their actions for the coming year. I think that this can work — when there are actions that go with the theme/word. Otherwise, it just symbolizes another year wished away in which nothing happened.
Which brings me to my biggest problem with new year’s resolutions – the timing is forced. I’ve heard of people putting off significant changes until the new year when they think they are supposed to do it. By the time the new year has come, the timing is off, and it just goes on the long list of other wishes that are discarded within a few weeks. I have never changed my life due to a new year’s resolution, although I’ve undertaken significant and successful changes in my life many times. The key is in making the changes when I’m ready. Not before and not after. Right timing is critical. My life rhythm often brings change in the fall, but not always. Improvements that I wasn’t ready for five years ago are perfectly ripe now, so remember that timing within the calendar year is not as important as the timing within your life. Every season is a good one for changing your life. Every week can be the time to start if it is a change whose time has come.
Self-reflection is always in season. Constructive change can always be a part of our life – if we are ready. No need to wait until a new year begins. No need to set yourself up to fail with a regimen that is unrealistic or with a list that is overwhelming. Start where you are, whenever you’re ready. Just believe in yourself. Do your research to help yourself succeed. Support yourself whatever way you need to. Extroverted? Join a support group. Introverted? Find an app or journal about your plan and how you work it. Know yourself and find a path that supports your core needs while changing the bits that no longer serve you. You can do it!