Updated: Jan 26
The time is here, and if you haven’t already, you’re bound to hear about the importance of setting New Year’s Resolutions. Oftentimes, NROs are fluffed with “Build your goals!” “Be better this year!” and “This year is your year!” These are all great epitaphs for these inspirational, hand-pumping, cheerleader-Esque quips because research shows that out of the 41% of Americans that set New Year’s resolutions, only 9% achieve them.
Those aren’t good odds.
You may be reading this thinking, “I thought I searched for a Life Coach/mental health counselor in training who can steer me in the right direction; why is she condemning my energy?”
Sorry about that.
New Year’s Resolutions don’t work because, most often, individuals create such lofty goals that they haven’t considered some key ingredients to ensure their success. These include:
We all have developed a personal narrative. The narrative that feeds our minds and habits are thoughts that have grown over time based on our experiences, our families of origin, and how we view our successes and failures. If we are depressed, our narrative resembles much of Eyeore in Winnie the Pooh, where we struggle to narrate a more positive future. Common rehearsal in your narrative may include: I’ve never done it before; why try again?
I wish I could say yes, but I can’t.
I’d say something, but no one listens to me.
When we are stuck in a depressive loop, we don’t succeed in our goals because our narrative tells us we aren’t capable.
The kicker is; you don’t have to be depressed to fail at your NRO. In fact, you could be extremely energized with your NRO, but another narrative is at play.
How do you approach failures? What do you tell yourself when you make a mistake?
If you’re like most adults in the United States, you have years of unmet New Year’s Resolutions. Swirling in your thoughts is more than likely a micro-narrative that tells you that because you didn’t reach your ultimate goal, you are a failure. More than likely, you miss the forest for the trees, meaning you do not process that the small steps you took to create and manage your NRO are not small at all but pivotal steps toward success.
A positive cognitive appraisal of small steps is necessary for reaching your NRO. The narrative you rehearse before goals sets into motion huge commands to the brain on what is to come and how to embrace the forward-moving narrative.
Who Are You?
There is an old tale about a king who was sick of his townspeople complaining that he hadn’t done enough for them. The complacency of the townspeople and their inability to see all he had provided them drove him mad. One day he placed an enormous boulder in the middle of the road that led to the castle yard where individuals would meet together and gain their food from the king.
The king sat in his castle and watched as the townspeople approached the boulder that blocked their way. One woman approached the boulder and complained, “I’m not able to move this boulder or climb over it; I will just go home hungry.” A man approached the boulder and looked at it, and said, “I remember when I tried to remove the limb in the road, and it took me so long to cut it up, move it to the side, and make a pile of logs only to be too tired to continue with my day. I won’t try to move this boulder.” The townspeople further annoyed the king; “Why did they give up so quickly?”
Then another man approached the boulder. The king watched him walk around the boulder multiple times then he disappeared out of sight. Suddenly, the king sees the boulder begin to roll, and just behind the gigantic rock, he sees the man with a thick branch creating a lever to move the boulder little by little. The man worked for hours, obviously exhausted, but focused on what was ahead: food and community in the castle yard. The man made just enough room to pass, a small space he could squeeze through. Nonetheless, he felt pride, it took a lot of effort, but it was worth it. Then as he started on his way forward, something caught his eye. Just under the boulder was a bag. The man opened the bag, and inside he found gold that would allow him a more comfortable life.
You can’t walk in the fog and hope you don’t bump into anything. Being lost doesn’t help you. You have to set the state of your environment for optimization. Most times, New Year’s Resolutions go something like: I will work out every single day of the week, or I won’t drink for all of January, or I will lose weight this year. But how does your environment encourage and give you momentum to continue toward your goal?
You must get your environment in order. Clean the cabinets of junk food. Create a workout schedule that allows for changes in scheduling. Clean your house, your car, make your bed and wash your dishes.
To fix problems, you have to start fixing your environment.
By preparing your environment, you have readied yourself for goal realization. The small steps are micro goals achieved, and your brain needs this to “close the circuit.” Meaning, making your bed and cleaning out the cabinets are all completed tasks TOWARD your main goal and keeps your brain happy. Which then allows helpful dopamine levels to increase, and that converts into brain energy-adrenaline.
Much like how our micro-narrative is key, our micro-goals are key and give our brain the positive reinforcement of dopamine to continue us on the way forward.
We all have made mistakes. However, if we do not process our mistakes and recognize the systems and habits that helped us fail or didn’t work for us, we are bound to fall prey to them again. We must ask ourselves how significant the mistake was and note the cascade of thoughts that follow. We all bind our negative biases to our future. Although mistakes can hurt and cause pain, we can learn from them. While considering your mistakes in missing last year’s New Year’s Resolution, identify the missteps. Confront the adversarial or negative narrative that follows and remind yourself errors are due to narrative and state, NOT trait.
Maybe (most probably) you’re not as bad as you think you are.
Self-assessment is key. Confront your mistakes. Eliminate the systems that don’t work. Create new approaches. Rinse and repeat.
Think, Do, Assess
Whether your NRO is to lose weight or gain a new job, it takes some work to achieve those goals. Key to your success is how your narrative drives you or paralyzes you. Your approach to thinking about how you’ve done in the past and what you’re capable of doing is the very first starting point in your journey.
The most logical next step is to do. But, first, you have to create a state and environment that move you toward your goals. Micro steps like cleaning cabinets or studying up on resume creation are necessary to actualize your main goal.
Finally, you should always assess. Investigate yourself, do not castigate yourself. Confront your past mistakes. Eliminate where you stumbled and try again.
Bettering yourself for 2023, I believe, is always a great way to kick off the new year. So, start with how you think, behave, and learn. You’ll better yourself for years to come without a new year beckoning you.
If you're looking for help in creating a new year with realized goals, Piper Harris offers life coaching online and graduate student mental health counseling in the greater Atlanta area for in person sessions. Piper has worked with hundreds of men and women in behavioral and emotional change for the betterment of their lives. Select the button below to ask her how.