New Year’s Resolution: Should You Make One or Not?
It just seems like the thing to do. As January approaches, signaling the start of a new year and a fresh start, New Year’s resolutions can be especially risky for those in recovery because the stakes are higher and the opportunity to feel disappointed in one’s self are greater, if the resolution’s promise is broken. Since self-doubt, self-criticism and shame are often issues a recovering person struggles with, making a resolution that may be easily broken is like setting one’s self up for failure.
Since self-doubt, self-criticism and shame are often issues a recovering person struggles with, making a resolution that may be easily broken is like setting one’s self up for failure.-Rita Milios
But that is not always the case. Scientists have recently begun to view willpower as not only a concept, but as an actual form of mental energy that requires fuel, in the form of blood glucose, to sustain itself. In order to maintain self-control, we must maintain our overall physical and mental energy. If we use up all our resources fending off crises and avoiding temptations, we can run out of willpower.
In an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 102(6), June 2012), authors Wilhelm Hoffmann, Roy Baumeister, Georg Forster and Kathleen Vohs note that, “paradoxically, people with the best self-control are those who use their willpower less. Instead of regularly fending off temptations, they figure out ways to minimize temptation, avoid crises and conserve their energies.” When a situation calls for it, they have “stored” willpower left to use; they are not tapped out. The key, then, is to develop strategies to be proactive, rather than reactive, in dealing with potential pitfalls.
Below are some suggestions that can help you increase the likelihood of fulfilling your New Year’s resolution, and can also help you maintain your overall recovery strategy.
Resolution Rescue Strategies
- Don’t overreach. Make one, not multiple New Year’s resolutions. Channel all your energy into one sensible, achievable goal.
- Be specific. Break your overall goal down into smaller sub-goals, or objectives, with time-lines or other specifics. For instance, rather than resolving to “attend more support group meetings,” resolve to “go to two meetings per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
- Monitor your progress. Keep track of both your goal-related activities and the progress you are making. For instance, you might create a log sheet to monitor meeting attendance. The simple act of checking off a scheduled meeting can keep you motivated. You might also catalogue at the end of the week any successes and motivational or inspirational occurrences related to your attendance. Re-read these whenever your interest or motivation begins to wane.
- Don’t over-react to set-backs. Set-backs should be expected, but not used as an excuse to dial back on self-discipline. Avoid the “It’s ruined now, so why bother?” attitude. (A meeting is missed; the plan is blown, so why bother to keep going?) Instead, resolve to get back to the plan. It is better to play make-up than to give up.
- Reward yourself often. We all need positive feedback. For every sub-goal you reach, reward yourself appropriately. Don’t wait until the end of the year for validation that you have been successful. Each step accomplished is a success in its own right, and should be acknowledged and appreciated. Attaching a small reward to each sub-goal accomplished will help you stay motivated. For instance, after each month of “perfect attendance” to meetings, treat yourself to a dinner out or the purchase of a small but non-essential item that you would enjoy.
Resolving Not to Resolve
But as you know, your recovery is a day-by-day process and not a once-a-year personal ultimatum.-Rita Milios
The steps above are useful tips to help you maintain your New Year’s resolution, should you choose to make one. But if you feel that making a resolution in some way puts added pressure on you, then you should resolve not to resolve. There is really no wrong decision here. Resolutions are again, simply intentions with a bit of added motivation in the form of a promise to yourself. But as you know, your recovery is a day-by-day process and not a once-a-year personal ultimatum. If you view goal-setting and monitored self-discipline as a regular, ongoing part of your recovery strategy, you likely don’t really need to make a resolution to point you in the right direction. So, good for you!
Whether you are a New Year’s resolution-maker or not, the most important thing to consider for the coming year is that you can have a “fresh start” any time you need it.
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