How to make your New Year’s resolutions succeed (if they usually fail)


I remember a conversation I had in January 2021 in which I talked about my intentions for the New Year. I deliberately called them intentions, not resolutions, because over the years, I have not had much success with resolutions.

Unfortunately, the word “intentions” turned out to be a free pass for me to not follow through. Despite my best efforts, not one of my 2021 intentions was achieved.  This is because — whatever you call them — resolutions often fail.

In 2022, I want my resolutions to stick. So I’ve been thinking about how real change happens.

When I used to be a psychotherapist, clients often came to me hoping for magical solutions to help them make behaviour changes. But changing our habits is never easy. Will power, persuasion, and even insight often fail to bring lasting changes.

What I’d learned from psychotherapy theory turned out to be true in practice — change happens when a person becomes who they really are, not when they try to become someone they’re not. You will have more success if you abandon—at least for the moment —the person you wish you could become, and embrace who you already are. 

This is the paradoxical theory of change, a term coined by Arnold Beisser (1970) who said:

Change happens when you become what you are, not when you try to become what you are not.

So I’ve realised it doesn’t matter whether I call them intentions or something else, my New Year’s resolutions are much more likely to succeed if they take on board this way of thinking about change.

I recommend taking time to reflect on the changes you want to make—ideally in dialogue with others.  This will help you to make changes that reflect the person you truly are, not who you think you should be.

Here are 4 ways to set your resolutions for 2022 and make some changes that will really stick.

1. Set resolutions that align with who you are

Focus first on becoming more fully the person you are, rather than focusing on what you want to achieve and how to want to achieve it.  

If I’m honest, the person I am is not very interested in exercise so last year’s resolution, to go to the gym three times a week, was destined to fail.

Who I really am is a person who is energised and inspired by being in nature, so a resolution to walk in nature three times a week is going to help me be more fully myself. The health benefits will be a bonus.

If you’re still not clear about the person you truly are, it helps to reflect on your purpose.  To learn how, read my article on purpose, What do you really, really want (it’s not about you). Resolutions that align with your purpose are much more likely to stick.

2. Small changes, big impact

It actually helps to think small rather than big.

James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, is the latest best-selling book on how to change habits. Instead of thinking big when it comes to changing your life, Clear suggests that real change comes from the compound effect of hundreds of small decisions. Miniscule changes can actually grow into life-altering outcomes.

The real me is full of energy and vitality, so I’m going to start my resolution to walk in nature by walking for just 5 minutes, and build up from there.  And rather than thinking about how many kilos I’d like to lose in 2022, I am going to start by saying no – just once – to that extra piece of chocolate. 

3. Take action

The most important step is taking action. Planning and strategizing are helpful, but on their own, they won’t lead to change or other tangible results.  As James Clear says:

When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome.

To get started on the process of change, all you have to do is decide to take action today.

4. Get back up when you fail

It’s inevitable that you will fail, because no-one is perfect.  Remember this when you eat the whole block of chocolate or spend all day on the couch. Don’t beat yourself up. Enjoy the chocolate, enjoy your day on the couch, but you don’t need to do it again the next day. Every day is a new opportunity to make choices that will help you move towards your goals.

In the same way, 2022 is a new year. We have faced constant challenges since COVID entered our lives. In 2022, let’s pick ourselves up again and take action, one small step at a time, to be the people we are truly meant to be.

Happy festive season and I wish you great success in 2022. 

Maria Brett
The Growing Edge

Maria Brett is a former CEO who has been a practitioner of mindfulness for more than 25 years. Maria’s Transforming Resilience Program helps participants make deep and lasting changes by learning what resilience really is and how to put it into practice.  To find out more, contact Maria.

References:

Beisser, Arnold. 1970. Paradoxical theory of change. In Gestalt therapy now, edited by Joen Joen Fagan and Irma Lee Shepherd (Palo Alto: Science and Behavior Books): 77-80.

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: an easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones; tiny changes, remarkable results. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

© Maria Brett, 2021