Being a clinical social worker for over 20 years, having my own practice and providing psychotherapy to individuals, adults, couples and families have allowed me to help all kinds of people. It has become apparent that there are those that are goal-oriented and having a resolution is consistent with their personality and reasons for their success. For others, having a resolution and failing at it can be frustrating since it becomes another example of not being successful.
Does this mean that one shouldn’t make New Year’s resolutions, if they’re not typically a goal-oriented person? Not at all. To be successful in reaching a goal, one should keep in mind these three concepts: 1) Find a goal(s) that is congruent with what you value most; 2) Make sure to have a reward for yourself when you accomplish your goal that is motivating; and 3) Make the resolution for yourself and not ones pressured by others.
Develop a goal that is congruent with what you value most.
Think a bit about what kinds of goals you are pursuing. Many may seem superficial (lose some weight) or pedestrian (manage debt better). That’s fine. Go ahead and work on these goals. But allow yourself to think big as well. What do you value in life? What provides you with meaning? What kind of world do you want to live in? The New Year’s resolution ritual can be a time of both reflection — “what worked well in my life this past year?” and of values clarification. Having resolutions that are congruent with what we most value — with those experiences that give our lives meaning are more likely to be successful.
Studies conducted by Dan McAdams , Dr. Ed de St. Aubin, an associate professor of psychology at Marquette who has researched meaning-making, among other areas, and others have shown that psychosocially healthy adults — those with a solid balance of self worth who felt meaning in life, social integration and loved by others — have personal strivings stemming from generativity. This is a desire to nurture younger people and to create a world that benefits future generations. Such adults list goals such as “spend more time with my children,” “reduce the racism in my community” or “nurture junior colleagues.” Folks with these generative goals tend to be quite happy and to see themselves as living meaningful lives (http://www.marquette.edu/magazine/recent.php?id=1325711917&subaction=showfull)
2) Have a reward for your goal that motivates you.
The book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (http://charlesduhigg.com/the-power-of-habit/), provides some wonderful insights into how habits form (positive and negative ones) and how to go about making new habits or changing old ones. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, or becoming more productive, for example, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. The basic message of his book is to understand a “habit loop” and develop this loop to succeed in changing. A habit loop has a motivating reward after having done something which creates a craving which leads to a process of doing something in order to get to a reward. Keep in mind, the reward is something that often feels good, such as feeling relaxed, less stressed, or making someone happy.
Without a positive reward, there is no positive consequence to doing the activity or thing and thus no craving develops. The craving is the important motivator that helps a pattern of behavior develop into a habit.
3) Have a goal that is yours alone and not motivated or pressured by someone else.
It is important to know that this decision made at the turn of the year is like goal setting. It must be based on a deep-seated aspiration where you know its achievement will make life better. Your success at setting New Year’s resolution should also provide you that sense of completion and self-satisfaction. Thus, it is crucial that the decision comes from within you and not pressured upon you by others. (http://www.goal-setting-guide.com/statistics-facts-setting-years-resolutions/)
With the above underlying concepts in mind, making New Year’s resolutions will be more likely to be successful and one will feel good about having made the change.