Finding Resolution Resolve

featThe beginning of a new year is understandably a time of renewal, a time for reinvesting energy into the important things in life, a time for reevaluating what those important things even are. Year after year, people use this time to dedicate themselves again to their self-improvement. What better time to try out that fad diet, watch our eating habits or maybe have a care with our spending? To be fair, it does make some sense. The whole world is restarting and re-purposing. Why can’t a person?

This tradition has continued for time immemorial, but in the modern era, we call these promises and personal challenges New Year’s resolutions. The process is as individual as the person making the resolution, but the general idea is to make these claims public in an effort to somehow remain accountable for one’s betterment. If you tell everyone you’re starting a new diet, you’ll stay on it because you don’t want to look like a liar or a quitter in front of your friends, right? There’s a modicum of logic behind that reasoning to be sure, but be that as it may, why are these resolutions so notorious for failing?

One answer may be as simple as the fact that as intelligent and capable as humans can be, we’re generally not so good at determining what we actually need to do to better ourselves or why we should be making those changes. “My main job is to help the person look at what they want and getting to understand the gap between what they think they want and their current reality,” says Bob Berberich, a local business and personal coach. “There’s a lot of artificial incentive behind what people say they want, and New Year’s resolutions are the epitome of that,” adds Berberich, “What does that really add up to?”

Bob Berberich.

Bob Berberich.

In other words, making a New Year’s resolution simply because it’s New Years may not work simply because there’s no real necessity for change present. There’s no hitting-the-wall moment that has brought about the desire to change, merely a societal pressure that will disappear in a few months’ time. If that’s so, however, then why does the phenomenon continue? Surely human beings have figured it out. Surely we know better by now.

Laura Wagner is also a local personal coach who employs her expertise as a licensed psychotherapist and fitness instructor to aid in her practice. When asked the question why most people make New Year’s resolutions, she had this to say: “I have a lot of experience helping people with what I call ‘the permanent New Year’s resolution.’ I think many people make resolutions because they inherently want to live better lives. They want to be healthier, happier, have more energy, meaningful relationships and enjoy a career versus feeling like they’re a slave to always trying to figure out what the ‘secret’ or ‘magic pill’ is for any or all of those things.”

Despite now knowing why we all want to change and why we all want to change at New Year’s, the question remains as to what to do about it. “Sometimes my job is as simple as helping clear things up,” admits Berberich, “I once lost a client who wanted to create his own business. My process is very practical and explicit. Okay, you want to create a business. Here are the things you need to accomplish to make that happen, the habits and practices you’re going to need to adopt. He quickly realized that he wanted to create a business, but he really didn’t want the work to create a business. It was as simple as that.”

Wagner’s solution is, perhaps, less didactic but just as effective: “I always tell my clients that I have bad news and good news to offer them. The bad news is that there is no easy fix for long-term, sustainable change, but I also say that this is the most excellent news ever. Change is not usually a linear process. Human beings can catapult forward at times but also find themselves falling back at others. My goal is to help my client realize that there’s a deeper process that’s made up of the big shifts, for sure, but also – and to me, this is very, very important – it’s made up of what seem to be small practices, habits or decisions made each and every day.”

Laura Wagner.

Laura Wagner.

It seems then, that the big problem – the one that remains insurmountable for so many – is that we are easily discouraged. We employ all-or-nothing thinking that withers away at our commitment, our intentions, our confidence and even the desire to improve our lives that brought us to the table in the first place. “There’s this idea that one setback, whether it’s an extravagant meal after a week of healthier eating or missing a week of workouts, is the threshold of failure,” says Wagner, “It becomes a frustrating cycle of struggle where we tell ourselves how unworthy, terrible or irresponsible we are, or we turn completely away from our goals and ignore ourselves. We’re really ignoring the bigger picture, the higher goals we have for ourselves.”

These self-judgments can be more than just harmful to a resolution; they can be harmful to the esteem and psyche of the individual as well. Berberich implores his clients to avoid confusing feelings with judgments, especially with yourself: “I think when setting truly attainable goals for yourself, you have to have a lot of self-awareness. You have to know when you’re making a judgment versus having a feeling. For example, if you tell someone that you feel betrayed, that’s not really a feeling.” To borrow Berberich’s example, to feel betrayed is really to feel angry and in that anger, create a narrative that justifies it while ignoring the situation or circumstances of the other person. The same applies with our own feelings. We should accept them, yes, but we should actually investigate their cause and evaluate how we may be impacting our own likelihoods for success. If we don’t, we’ll remain trapped in a spiral of regret and defeat from which we may never escape.

Wagner echoes with some similar statements: “There is something to learn from every triumph and every setback. Be a scientist in your life and see how it all helps you in your process and in the big picture of who you want to be.” We humans are imperfect beings, and despite our best efforts, the most dedicated of us will waver in our resolve from time to time. But even to this, Wagner has the most profound advice and, perhaps, the secret to keeping these resolutions alive: “When you decide you want to make a change in your life, stop ‘promising’ yourself to be who you want to be. Decide you are ‘committed’ to living as congruently as possible to the vision of the person you want to be. A promise is the beginning of something, while a commitment is clinging to a goal and taking action. Over time, the result when all of those critical factors and actions line up over and over? That’s commitment. It becomes who you are. That’s changing a life.” VT

Courtesy photos