The Trap of New Years Resolutions - Part 1
For many people, the beginning of the year is a time to make new year’s resolutions. These can vary from fitness goals to career related goals. Usually the goals are a response to an area of their life where they feel a sense of dissatisfaction. Setting goals can provide individuals with a sense of direction and purpose and can therefore seem like a great thing to do. Unfortunately for many though, it can prove to be a catalyst for disappointment. When the goals are not met, for whatever reason, individuals can end up with feelings of failure, shame, guilt and eventually depression. These negative feelings are usually accompanied by negative thoughts about oneself and can manifest as maladaptive behaviours. When this happens over and over again, the impact on the individual can have terrible consequences.
Samantha, a 22-year-old young lady got to the end of the year feeling as though life needed to change. She had received a couple of warnings from her manager at work for taking too many days off as well as other performance related issues. Most of these issues were a direct result of too many drunken nights out with her friends. Additionally, a visit to the doctor revealed that she was a high risk of developing liver disease and type 2 diabetes. After a stern warning from her GP, she decided her goal for the new year would be to become healthy. She set out to achieve that by adopting a nutritious diet, determining to eliminate excessive amounts of alcohol and joining a gym to execute a robust exercise regime. In the second week of January she was well underway having joined her local gym and signed up with a personal trainer who helped her create a nutritional plan which included three healthy meals a day, six days a week, two litres of water a day and no alcohol during the week.
In the third week she was invited to an all-day Australia Day event. Reluctantly she accepted but was resolute about maintaining her health goals. Surrounded by peers who were not very sympathetic to her cause, she found the peer pressure too hard to resist and eventually succumbed. The following day she was unable to make it to work and called in sick. To combat the hangover, she ordered some takeaway which she quickly devoured. By the end of the day she was plagued with feelings of shame, guilt and failure. These feelings were accompanied by negative thoughts about herself “I couldn’t even make it through one month”, she told herself. “I might as well give up”, “Mum and dad were right. I will never really be able to accomplish anything”, “What’s the point of even trying”. The shame and guilt led to her avoiding the gym, lest her personal trainer confirmed her feelings of uselessness.
Samantha’s story is one that many of us can relate to. Despite well-intended resolutions for the year, we find ourselves falling into habits that have afflicted us for years. We beat ourselves up about it and harbour feelings of shame, guilt, failure and disappointment. This leads to feelings of despondency and eventually we give up, at times convincing ourselves that next year will be ‘our year’. It is clear from looking at Samantha’s story, that there seems to be a triadic relationship between our feelings, beliefs (or thoughts) and our actions. We have spoken in previous blogs about how the brain is an association making organ that stores information in codes based on our experiences. It is particularly good at capturing experiences that impact us negatively.
In the case of Samantha’s story, we can see how one choice to have some drinks on a special occasion with her mates, led to consequences of a far more pervasive nature. Her initial choice to drink led to her not being able to go to work the following day. It also led to her making a secondary choice to eat unhealthy food. This resulted in her choosing to avoid the gym and eventually to give up the goal for that year. Each of these choices served as confirmation of a code that was stored in her brain for many years. Translated, the code basically says, “you’ll never be able to achieve anything”, “you’re not good enough”, “you’re a failure!” Once those beliefs manifest in her actions, she is left feeling depressed. For some people, when this happens consistently over long periods of time, it can prove to have fatal consequences. “If I can’t even succeed at something as simple as being healthy, then what’s the point?” The feelings of shame and guilt can lead to one choosing to isolate themselves from the world, and in some cases, this is a permanent isolation.
So, what then? Should we give up on making goals or resolutions for the year? Are we setting ourselves up for failure by setting these goals? How do we prevent this triadic phenomenon from having such a stronghold in both our own lives and the lives of those that we care about? Tune in for part 2 where we address these questions and journey with Samantha to a place of hope.