Lose 20 pounds.
Find a husband.
Makeover every room the Marie Kondo way.
How’s it going?
At the beginning of your shiny new year, all of your New Year’s Resolutions probably seemed possible and hopes of accomplishing your goals were high. But now, just a few months in, well…not anymore.
You don’t meal prep the way you want to. Your attempts at dating are demoralizing. And the pile of old books, dirty clothes, and unorganized kitchen Tupperware is sparking frustration rather than joy.
The truth? You are not alone.
Many people discover that it doesn’t take long before the plan to be more, do more, and fix more about ourselves or our lives quickly goes out the window as the weeks wear on.
In fact, for most of us, all of our well-laid January routines fade away completely well before Spring arrives. So, the question is:
What’s Getting in Your Way?
To figure out why your resolutions fizzled, you need to identify barriers to the life you want. Start by asking yourself these questions:
Are your actions getting in the way of your resolutions?
For instance, do you find that you drink too much on the weekends or hang out on the couch for another Netflix binge, only to find you’ve wrecked your weight-loss and workout goals? Or perhaps you linger on the phone too late with a prospective partner, knowing it will just make you too tired and cranky to be productive at work in the morning.
Do you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Sometimes you know those actions don’t support the kind of life you want to live, and yet you do it anyway.
Is negative thinking sabotaging your goals?
When you’re acting in a way that creates barriers, you’re probably thinking in an unhelpful way too. How often have you thought, “I don’t have time to work out this week, I can just start Monday” or “I don’t need eight hours of sleep anyway”?
At times, negative thoughts can completely take hold of you and stop your goals in their tracks. Maybe you’ve thought, “You were never going to lose that weight anyway” or “You don’t have what it takes to be in a long-term relationship.”
Do you wonder why you talk to yourself that way? You know it isn’t encouraging or motivational, but somehow it’s made its way into your mental dialogue.
Did you set unrealistic expectations?
Are you going crazy trying to meet impossibly high standards? It may be that your goals aren’t rooted in reality and only serve to create anxiety and a sense of failure. You never intended for your goal to be so exhausting and overwhelming. However, when you list out your goals, it feels too daunting and you just don’t know where to start.
So, What Can You Do About Your Resolutions Now?
Take action! It is still possible to recover your New Year enthusiasm and make your resolutions happen. You just need a plan. Strategies like these can help:
Set SMART goals
SMART is an acronym for a method that helps guide your goals in a manageable, proactive, less overwhelming way. Let’s use the popular Marie Kondo home organizing goal as an example.
- Specific – As it pertains to organizing, instead of creating a huge pile of everything in your closet, try just tackling T-shirts and shorts.
- Measurable – Now that you have a specified goal, you can relax knowing that you have only those two drawers to manage rather than every item of clothing you own. This effectively prevents the sense that you are drowning in the project.
- Attainable – Setting a goal for two drawers within a couple of hours encourages you to tackle the job knowing it is something you can accomplish well and completely.
- Relevant – Choosing to tackle your closet this way helps you connect with your wants and needs. Your choice of T-shirts and shorts may be relevant because the weather is warming up. Or taming your overstuffed drawers may be a way to streamline life and provide a way to donate to a charity you like.
- Time-based – Setting a limit can ensure that outlandish demands on your time are reigned in. This way you can dig in without stress or guilt, aware that the time and energy required can be easily scheduled for just an hour or two.
Essentially, this approach to our goals can help manage anything that seems too big to accomplish. Breaking goals down is key to successfully reaching them.
Make Sure Your Values Align
Goals and values are not the same things.
Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches us that a value is a chosen life direction, in other words, how you choose to live when you are living a meaningful life. A goal, on the other hand, is a finite action typically based on your personal values.
To illustrate, let’s assume that your value is like a direction, for instance, “I want to go east.” So you might fly on a plane going east and land in Denver. Then London. Then China. Then Denver again. The value “I want to go east” is ongoing and may be continually maintained for as long as the value is held. You have never “arrived” at “east” and can continue to keep going east.
Now, let’s look at one of my values: being supportive. I can support my clients as they grieve, call my sister to support her during a hard day, and then later support my partner with a job transition. Even though I have done supportive actions, I am not “done” being supportive. I am choosing to continue to be supportive since it helps me feel as though I am living a meaningful life. Values do not get checked off. You always move forward with values, attempting to continually live in accordance with them.
With that in mind, your goals are checkable items. So, you might live according to your “I want to go east” value by setting a specifically achievable “visit New York” goal. And you might live according to your “supportive” value by calling to check in on your best friend after her job interview.
Check in with Your Values
The goals you choose for yourself should align with values that reinvigorate you and bring meaning to your life. To say you want to “lose weight” or “be skinny” is not a value. Those are goals. Losing weight may be worthwhile, but only if you are invested in the value behind the goal (like vitality and well-being) that justifies the effort.
Finally, understand that your values are not set in stone.
They change from year to year and from one setting to another. Values such as flexibility, accountability, or safety may be more important at work. Whereas being loving, trustworthy and supportive are values that may matter more with your partner.
Pay attention to which values you hold in various situations and seasons. Check in regularly to assess that your values and goals still align over time.
Deal with Negative Thoughts
It’s important to note that even if you’ve done the work of aligning your values and goals, most likely, your own negative thoughts will still try to get in the way. Negative thoughts like, “you’re not smart enough”, “pretty enough”, “wealthy enough”, or “good enough”, have a way of creeping in. And before long, they can deflate your motivation and confidence.
How do you cope with these negative thoughts?
- Recognize that your thoughts come and go, just like feelings. We often think we can control thoughts more than we actually can.
- Focus on actions you can take. Shift your attention to the unhelpful behavior you identified and change those instead.
- Reframe your thoughts and speak well to yourself. Would you say “Gosh, you’re so fat,” to your best friend? No? Good… talk to yourself as you would your best friend.
What’s Next? Accept Yourself and Commit to Moving Forward
That’s right. Goals are hard. Be kind to yourself.
If you find yourself off track, it doesn’t mean you have to start at square one. It just means you have to decide where to move forward from that specific point.
After three weeks of meal prep, you can forgive yourself for having one night of sourdough and beer. You can simply allow it to be a nice caloric detour and head back to your healthy routine. Honestly, if you got absorbed in a podcast and lost your way on a road trip, would you turn around, go all the way back home, and start over? Of course not!
Above all, the idea is to allow yourself to make a mistake and accept that sliding off track happens. Give yourself a break.
Choose to tune out the negative thoughts and self-talk, especially if self-compassion is one of your values. If you need help with self-compassion you may want to investigate Self-compassion.org where you can listen to guided meditations or learn exercises to help you become gentler with yourself.
Finally, remember that it’s okay to slow down. Explore life’s detours and then head back in the direction that matters. It’s fine to try again. It’s fine to choose new goals if you need to. Your goals are still reachable.
Happy New Year… take two.
Author: Angela Izmirian, Ph.D.
Angela is a licensed psychologist at Portland Psychotherapy. Her specialties include trauma/abuse, relationship issues, couples therapy, ethnic minority issues, body image, loss/grief, depression, anxiety, transgender assessments, and sexual orientation & gender identity exploration.