Reassessing and Tweaking New Year’s Resolutions

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Many of us made resolutions at the start of the new year. But around this time it’s usually already become painfully evident just how hard those resolutions are to keep. So what to do?

Do you simply throw in the towel and admit defeat? Do you dig your heels in even more firmly, only to run the risk of feeling even worse about things if you should fail once more to achieve your goals?

Some motivational experts say we should expect even our most sincere resolutions to meet stiff resistance. But our motivational failures need not be regarded as evidence of personal weakness or the hopelessness of our situation. Rather, our failures can provide us with valuable information about what’s likely to work and what won’t work in our efforts to do better. So even though by February’s end it’s typical for most of us to start questioning whether we have the necessary resolve to make good on the promises we made to ourselves in January, the real question we need to ask ourself is what adjustments we can make to our resolutions to help ensure a reasonable degree of success.

One of the major reasons our New Year’s resolutions run into difficulty has to do with the false expectations we have about our circumstances. For example, during the hustle-bustle time of the holiday season, we might attribute our overeating, eating the wrong things, or lack of good physical exercise to the time pressures and stress we’ve been under. We might tell ourselves that things will certainly be different once life “returns to normal” and we get out from under the stress we’ve endured and fashion some really ambitious fitness goals. Then the realities of daily life set in, and we realize that many of the stressors we imagined might lessen or disappear after the holidays are still very much with us. That’s when it becomes all too clear that the ambitious goals we set for ourselves are largely unworkable. Does that mean we have no choice but to admit defeat? More than likely it just means we need to be more realistic about the goals we’ve set. To keep our motivation levels high and to maintain a positive image of ourselves, it’s important to set goals that are both reasonable and more easily achievable. It’s better for our self esteem to revel in modest, consistent achievements than to chronically get down on ourselves for failing to meet goals that were fairly unachievable in the first place.

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Making proper “adjustments” to your New Year’s resolutions requires some compassion and thoughtfulness. Setting expectations too high is a recipe for self-defeat and is psychologically cruel. Remember, making and keeping resolutions is supposed to make us feel good about ourselves. So when we tweak our resolutions we need to keep some things firmly in mind:

Will working toward our goal bring us joy?
Naturally, we feel good when we accomplish goals. But we’re much more likely to stay invested in our efforts to reach difficult goals when we’re edified just by working on them. Working on a goal shouldn’t be drudgery. It should be a pleasure in itself.
Are the goals we set realistic?
Do they accurately reflect who we are as a person — our strengths, weaknesses, temperament, etc.? Or are they inordinately ambitious, setting us up for almost certain failure? Are they so incompatible with our lifestyle as to necessarily encounter constant resistance?
Can we modify our goals along the way?
Goals that have some flexibility built into them — and can accommodate unforeseen circumstances, our hectic schedule, family concerns and other responsibilities — are much easier to keep.
Do we have the energy we need to invest in our plan?
Sometimes, making sure we have the energy necessary to make good on our pledge means making some trade-offs. We have to be willing to let some things go. Sometimes, that might even involve cutting something out of our plan that is simply too energy demanding.

The vast majority of us will experience some degree of failure on the promises we made to ourselves as the new year began. We don’t have to regard that failure as evidence of personal defeat. Our failures always hold valuable lessons for us, especially if we pay attention to them. They give us information about the course corrections we need to make if we’re ultimately to be successful. So while it’s not uncommon to be feeling fairly discouraged right about now about how well you’ve been doing on your New Year’s resolutions, you can take some heart in the notion that almost no plan — no matter how well intended — is pulled off without any hitches. Instead of simply throwing in the towel, consider modifying the promises you made so that working on them is in itself a joy and making small, reasonable gains on them brings you the kind of satisfaction that almost always accompanies personal achievement.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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