zenhabits : breathe

You’re Not Perfect, So What? Five Steps to Reclaim Your New Year’s Resolution

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ian Newby-Clark of Bad Habits.

The New Year, Chinese or otherwise, has now passed. The parties, and any hangovers, are long gone. Unfortunately, for many of you, your New Year’s resolutions are only memories. The gym bag sits forlorn in the corner, the bean sprouts wilt in your fridge. Your intentions were good, I know. You resolved to get into a new exercising habit, eat better, spend more time at work, spend more time with the family, or volunteer for a local charity. Or maybe all of the above (Yikes!)

To those of you who are sticking to your New Year’s resolutions I say CONGRATULATIONS! Don’t be too smug. For those of you who have not, I say CONGRATULATIONS!

Why would I congratulate people who haven’t stuck to their resolutions? Simple. They MADE resolutions. Deciding to change yourself, really committing to be a better person in some way, is not a decision arrived at easily. The fact that you decided to change yourself means that you’ve taken stock of yourself. You’ve reflected. You haven’t let the powerful forces of rationalization prevent you from committing to self-change.

“But,” you say, “I failed. That’s terrible isn’t it? It’s so depressing. Why even bother trying if it’s so hard?”

I have news for you: You are not perfect. You are not all-powerful. Self-change is hard, so it’s not terribly surprising that you didn’t get it right the first try. So, stop feeling so bad. It’s like when someone gets thrown from a horse. What do the horsie-types say? You’re supposed to get up, brush the dust off, and get back on that horse! That’s what you need to do right now.

Follow these steps:

1. Tell yourself, “It’s okay. I failed, but there’s nothing new in that.” Think of all of the other times you’ve failed. Re-read Leo’s post on how great failure can be [link to that post]. Don’t let the powers of rationalization take you further, though. Don’t give into the thought: “It’s okay. I don’t need to be better. It wasn’t all that important anyway.” Ask yourself this: If changing yourself wasn’t so important, then why did you decide to do it in the first place?

2. Congratulate yourself for wanting to be better. As a social psychologist, I know how extremely easy it is for people to excuse themselves their shortcomings. Your decision to be better takes moral courage.

3. Figure out what went wrong. Were you too ambitious? Was your plan too vague?

4. Form a plan that is informed by your failure. If you didn’t get to the gym because you slept in, plan to go to bed earlier. If you ate the wrong foods because you found preparing healthy food too time-consuming, find ways to make it less time consuming. If you stayed too late at work (again and again), schedule events with the family earlier in the evening.

5. Get going!

Read more from Ian Newby-Clark at his blog, Bad Habits.



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