14th December 2018

Why New Year’s resolutions can do more harm than good

Being ready for helpful change means being ready for growth.

Why New Year's resolutions can do more harm than good (c) KarinSieger.com

New Year’s resolutions can do more harm than good, if what we want to change is a crutch we need to cope with life. Take away the crutch and we may fall. It makes more sense to try and understand, why we need the crutch in the first place.

The attempt at fulfilling a resolution can turn into a frustrating, embarrassing and counter-productive experience. If the resolution ‘does not work’, we may lose hope.

I have never been one for new year’s resolutions. Perhaps it is my upbringing. I cannot remember it ever having been a topic at home.

When I was a young adult, resolutions where mostly about giving up ‘bad’ habits. Habits that either did not apply to me at all, or habits that applied to me so much, that I was not ready and willing to change. Even though it would have made sense and been better for me.

1. Which, if any, New Year’s resolutions do you have?

Does it include anything you tried before, but it didn’t work out? Anything you don’t feel ready to tackle just yet, and ideally would like to postpone?

For New Year’s or any resolutions of change to work, we need to take time to understand what is really involved. And we need patience. Because proper change cannot be hurried and shoe-horned into calendar days or weeks.

Every habit fulfils a need. Changing a habit does not necessarily address the need.

Ignoring our needs can make things more difficult. We may end up replacing the original crutch with another (worse) crutch. Or we may go back to the way things were in the first place, believing that for us success at New Year’s resolutions and change is not possible, afterall.

2. What can go wrong?

We fail to consider the root cause of the habit we want to change. Or we fail to realise that the habit we want to change is part of a whole chain of habits, all connected.

While we fiddle around the edges, the more complex nature of the change we want is ignored. And that is why such attempts at change can back fire.

Take the all time New Year’s resolution favourites: eating, drinking, smoking.

We might accept reasons for change, but we might also be afraid of the consequences. If you want to change or stop your consumption of any of the above, you might also wonder how to cope without it, if it is a crutch in moments of stress or loneliness.

1. The replacement trap

It is not uncommon for people who give up smoking to start eating more. Because we are used to do something with our hands and our mouths. We seek distraction in moments of discomfort, stress, fear or boredom.

Unless we address our difficulty in facing up to and dealing with such uncomfortable feelings, stopping our reliance on a crutch might just open the backdoor for a replacement crutch.

The real difficulty does not change. It is just dressed up differently.

2. The domino trap

If your crutch behaviour combines several habits, say you smoke, drink and snack at night while watching TV, you might need to address, what you do with your time in the evenings, as watching TV on its own may re-trigger the other habits.

3. You need to have a strategy. 

For every resolution ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I want this change? What are the benefits?
  • Who am I doing this for?
  • What does my inner voice tell me? Go for it? Am I worried how I will cope? I am ready, or not?
  • Is what I want to change connected to other habits, which I may need to change as well?
  • What is my time-table for change? How realistic is it? Do I need to set goals?
  • Do I need to tell others about my plan, or should I keep quiet about it, and see how it goes?
  • Does my success depend on the support from others, who may need to make some changes themselves?
  • How will I feel and cope with not sticking to the resolution?

4. Don’t beat yourself up.

Resolutions need determination, tenacity, strength, commitment, the right conditions and the right timing.

Too often we feel bad about ourselves or ashamed if we don’t make it or delay a resolution. Whereas there is another way of looking at it.

Failure only exists in our heads, if we let it.

Both trying and delaying a resolution are part of the journey, and success should not just be judged by arriving at a pre-set destination on a pre-set date.

Making resolutions in your own time, at a time when you are ready, is all part of a sensible strategy.

5. You are in charge.

You are in charge of making or breaking your resolution – not the other way around.

Why waste time and energy on half-baked resolutions when your heart is not really in it?

Why rebuke yourself for ‘failure’, when what you set out to change was not realistic in the first place?

Attempting change without a strategy that helps us understand what is really involved can be harmful and a waste of effort and time.

A bit more soul searching, facing up to and understanding some difficult home truths might be uncomfortable and might take time.

But in the long-run this might lead to more long-term, in-depth and helpful change.

6. A final thought for you.  

Which difficult feelings and thoughts have occupied you most this year? Which have caused you the greatest concern?

Which nice feelings and thoughts have been paramount for you?

Do the difficult and nice feelings and thoughts hold balance, or does one outweigh the other?

If you come to the conclusion that the difficult feelings and thoughts are dominant, like fear, hopelessness, anger, mistrust and more, then it might be an idea to invest some time and seek some help with exploring what is happening and what you can do about this.

To be out of balance can happen to us all. If the imbalance is profound and lasts too long, you may start noticing a general drain in positive mental and often physical energy.

Remember, making changes does not mean you have been doing anything wrong. Meaningful change is about growth and healing.

My best wishes for you in the new year and beyond!

The key to meaningful change – Read More

7 steps towards living in piece – Read More

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Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer. All rights reserved © Copyright Karin Sieger. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Article do not substitute medical advice.

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