Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail – Ditch the Resolution, Set an Intention
I have been excited to write this post for awhile. In the last few months several people have shared their New Year’s Resolutions. Most of the resolutions I have heard are centered around diet, weight-loss and fitness. Is it any surprise that the most common New Year’s resolution is to diet? Many of us hold in mind those inspiring people who were a weight loss success and hope for the same ourselves this year. Unfortunately, the reality is that New Year’s resolutions tend to fall away by mid-January causing many of us to sink deeper into feelings of failure and shame as we eat our guilt covered dessert.
So why do New Year’s resolutions fail? Many of us lack a plan and skill power, but the heart of the matter goes deeper yet. Our resolutions or goals are often fueled by unworthiness and non-acceptance of ourselves in the present. How can we possibly expect success under those circumstances?
Resolutions are Rigid
Let’s face it—most New Year’s resolutions are not about wellness. They are about ‘being good enough’—particularly the ones that are centered around body image, food and fitness. They are tainted with the belief: ‘I’ll be good enough when…’, ‘I’ll be loveable when...’ Resolutions connote a rigid, ‘no more messin’ around, I mean business’ attitude. The word resolution or ‘I resolve’ doesn’t hold much room for flexibility, self-compassion or even fun. No wonder they inevitably fail.
Many diets are perceived and approached as a kind of ‘necessary’ discipline or self-punishment since we believe we are out of control and have no willpower. The New Year’s resolution even begins long before the ball has dropped on New Years Eve. It begins during the holidays. The diet enthusiasts know they are going to ‘diet and suffer’ come January, so they consume every last indulgence possible beforehand. Once January rolls around and the initial excitement wears off about how great we’re going to look, resentment towards our diet’s restrictions starts to build. Resentment always results in rebellion. Then begins the binging, followed by shame and hopelessness.
Restriction → Resentment → Rebellion
I stopped believing in New Year’s resolutions several years ago. I had begun to find that New Year’s resolutions were pointless–a desperate, but hopeless attempt at self-improvement. In previous years I had joined the tradition of New Year’s resolutions and yet I had failed at every New Year’s resolution I had ever made. Whether it was a vow to stop biting my nails, stop complaining and be more positive, exercise more or write more, I never succeeded. The more determination I had in resolving to change something about myself and the more resistance I had to whatever my current ‘bad habit’ was, the more miserably I failed.
Resolution Versus Intention
Not only did I have my own track record to prove that New Year’s Resolutions were a waste of time, but I also had everyone else’s. Who doesn’t start a new diet or vow to get into shape in the New Year? The stats on gym memberships indicate such. In January gyms make one of their highest profits. Within a month or two, half of the people that paid for a membership stop going. In fact, gyms are so aware of this trend that they knowingly sell more memberships than they can legally house; they know that half will soon stop going altogether.
In the Yogic tradition, one sets an intention before a yoga practice, to start the day or when entering any situation. I decided to ditch the restrictive New Years resolution which always made me feel like I had either been bad or good, worthy or unworthy and I decided to set a New Years Intention.
An intention is different from a resolution that goes beyond semantics. An intention involves planting a thought-seed for our highest purpose and then surrendering it with quiet confidence. When you make a resolution, you are very specific about the how, the when, the where, and the how long of your goal. The philosophy is ‘no pain, no gain’. An intention focuses on your highest self, your wellness–your wholeness. It involves a more compassionate, self-loving and forgiving approach. If you veer from your intention, you understand that each experience acts as your teacher. You continue on with faith, knowing as long as you keep aiming, you can’t help but arrive at your destination. Setting an intention means letting go of your own agenda, deadlines and expectations of how and when things should happen. You cultivate patience and accept the process–even enjoy it!
So why do most of us fail at our New Year’s Resolutions or even the best of Intentions? Why are they so hard to stick with?
What you Resist, Persists
Psychologist Carl Jung first coined the phrase, ‘what you resist, persists’. Quantum physics has since proved this. We hardly need quantum physics to tell us this. We all know of the “don’t think of a pink elephant” experiment. The more we try to think of not eating junk food and the more determined we are to avoid something or stop a habit, the more we think of it and the more appealing it is because we are so focused on it. My first suggestion is obvious: stop resisting. There are several ways to do that. The first way is if you like cookies—eat them. Make healthy ones instead.
What You Focus On, Expands
Another law of quantum physics is ‘what we focus on expands.’ I’ve already talked about how gratitude is very closely linked with our levels of happiness in another post. Wherever we direct our energy or focus our concentration is what grows. We have all experienced this with pain. We know that if we focus on physical pain, it can overwhelm us. Sit and wallow in your emotions and that too will grow. It is the same with our resolutions. The more we say ‘don’t eat candy’, ‘no fast food’ etc. the more our brain hears ‘eat candy’, and ‘fast food.’ Our minds are very literal. We don’t process negatives like ‘don’t’, ‘no’ and ‘not’ very well. This is the same reason why it is much more effective to tell a child to find a chair to sit on, instead of telling them to ‘stop or not sit on the table’. Stop focusing on what you can’t eat and concentrate instead on all the healthy food you can eat. New Year’s resolutions are saturated with non-acceptance of ourselves.
- What is the attitude or energy that you bring to your New Year’s resolution?
- Is it filled with love and self-acceptance or one of doubt, fear and uncertainty?
- Do you approach your New Year’s resolution with the idea that you need to change to be good enough?
Self-Acceptance – The Missing Ingredient in Diet
Self-loathing and non-acceptance is insidious. If it worked, we wouldn’t have an obesity problem. We might think we have a positive self-image. Yet if we believe we are out of control, near hopeless and in need of change then we are adopting the attitude of self-punishment. For change to work, or a resolution to ‘stick’, we can’t simply name our goal and expect the magic to work. Obviously there needs to be action and skill power—but the real ingredient is the path of least resistance—acceptance.
Acceptance doesn’t mean approval, inaction or apathy. It simply means you totally and completely accept your present situation as undesirable as it is. Fighting it is futile. You don’t identify with it. Instead of saying “I am fat”, “I am an overeater”, you say “I have an overeating problem’ or ‘I have an obesity problem’. This shift away from making the problem your identity allows your brain to process this as a temporary situation and create new neural pathways to allow for change in attitude and behaviour.
Give up resistance, and develop acceptance. Set your goals, but do so with detachment. If you cling to the ‘magical transformation’ that your goal is promising, believing that you will be happy, at peace and fulfilled when you change, then you fail at accepting and loving yourself in the present. Many people who have been successful at losing weight, were more depressed after the weight loss than before because their self-image and their circumstances didn’t change–only their body. Since they believed for so long that weight loss would guarantee their happiness, their feelings of desperation intensified. Most gained the weight back since they returned to emotional eating to quell feelings of hopelessness.
Diminish Resistance with Gratitude
Instead of imagining how great your life could be in the future, bring your focus to all the things that you are grateful for in the present. Self-acceptance and gratitude dissolves resistance and if ‘what we resist, persists’ then diminishing resistance is key. The more you resist your present situation and refuse to make peace with present circumstances, the less likely you are to effect change. Why? Because when you approach a goal rigidly, you are approaching it with fear and underneath that fear is a belief that you don’t trust yourself—that you will fail. A goal coupled with doubt and even outright self-loathing is not likely to be realised.
Perspective Changes Your Circumstances
If you are waiting for your ideal weight, ideal partner or ideal life to love yourself, then the Universe, Life or God will keep giving you lessons and opportunities to love yourself now. Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott , explains in If Life is Game, then These are the Rules, that one of the rules for being human, is that a lesson is repeated until it is learned.
Have you ever noticed that the more desperation with which we meet a situation, the more Life meets us with an equal amount of desperate situations? Think of that time you or a friend ‘needed’ a boyfriend. The more you focused on it and clung to the idea, the less likely were the chances that a boyfriend appeared and the more desperate the situation appeared. Chances are that the boyfriend, the job or the pregnancy happened at precisely the moment when you stopped trying or forcing the situation.
As you move towards your goal hold a feeling of gratitude and acceptance of your current situation. The best way to effect change is to consciously choose how you react to your current situations. We literally change our present circumstances through our reactions.
Fear-Based Resolutions are Destined to Fail
I stumbled across this realization a couple years ago when I made the unorthodox New Year’s resolution to accept myself, to be myself more fully and to not apologize for who I was—weaknesses and strengths. ‘To thine own self be true‘ became my mantra. It was the first resolution that actually stuck, that I was mindful of all year. Naturally, it took practice, but each time I found myself not being true to myself, I simply reminded myself of my desire to be real. My guess as to why it worked is because I made a resolution from a place of self-love instead of fear. It was not centered around the need to change or not being good enough. Every ‘failure’ became an opportunity to practice self-acceptance.
This is what I have found: any resolution that is met with a hint of self-rejection or belief that one is not worthy, good enough or fully loveable unless they accomplish goal A, B or C is likely to fail. If you are already entering the game with the idea in the back of your mind that you are destined to fail then this perpetuates the belief that you are a miserable failure. Would you expect a child to reach their goal, if they received such conflicting messages? I have found that the more self-acceptance and self-love I practice, the more growth I experience. As Kundalini Yoga teacher, Gurmuhk says “Nothing comes from nothing, something comes from something”.
Honour Your Whole Self in 2015
This year instead of approaching New Year’s resolutions/intentions with the energy that you are not good enough, turn them around. New Year’s resolutions that go, “I need to diet” or “I am going to stop eating fattening foods” are tainted with restriction, deprivation, an air of self-punishment and an underlying feeling of expected failure. If every year, you vow to eat better and every year you ‘fail’, then perhaps it’s not about the food and certainly not ‘willpower’. Perhaps you need to be more self-loving and have a deeper sense of self-acceptance. How would it feel to say, “this year I am going to simply work on loving and accepting myself exactly as I am , no matter how many times my Ego tells me “I’m fat, hopeless and worthless”?
What are some other healthier New Year’s intentions?
- What about making your New Year’s intention to be a more mindful eater? To not give up, after the first failure and instead to recognize that ‘slips’ are actually our greatest teachers about our triggers?
- What about a New Year’s intention to simply focus on feeling good?
- What about a New Year’s intention to become more emotionally aware so that you become conscious of emotional and stress eating and understand how you are triggered?
- What about making your New Year’s intention to not go to war with food? To stop defining your success, failure and self-worth based on what you ate?
- What if your New Year’s intention was to be continuously mindful that your worth is an intrinsic part of being a Soul on this planet–that your value is totally irrelevant to titles, actions, possessions and even thoughts?
This year I challenge you to stop engaging in restrictive eating and dangerous and unhealthy exercise which will eventually, automatically lead to binging. Make your 2015 intention about living mindfully, soulfully, wholeheartedly and developing a healthy relationship with food and yourself–mind and body.
Last year my New Year’s intention was to quit being so serious and to have more fun. This year it is to focus on how great I feel when I exercise.
Honour thy Whole Self in 2015 through self-acceptance and self-compassion.
Wishing you a New Year filled with Health, Happiness and Wholeness!!