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Are You a New Year's Quitter?

How quickly did your New Year's resolutions go up in smoke this year? Did your goals to improve your health, relationships, or bank account even make it to February before flaming out? Maybe it's time to admit you're a New Year's quitter. But could giving up on resolutions actually lead to more success?

The New Year often brings reflection on the past and goals for the future. As January draws to a close, many find their New Year's resolutions already abandoned. Why do our well-intended goals so often fall short? Understanding the psychology behind goal setting and motivation can help us set and achieve realistic, sustainable goals and, of course, help us to help our clients.

Before setting a goal, check that it meets the conditions of being well-formed. Well-formed goals are stated in the positive, relatable in multiple representation systems, initiated and maintained by the individual, and must be ecologically sound to have a snowball's chance of success. Vague resolutions like "lose weight" fail to meet these criteria. Quantifying the goal and adding milestones increases the chance of success.

Motivation is key to following through on goals. We are driven to either move away from pain or move towards pleasure and growth. Assess whether your goal is fueled by a desire to avoid something unpleasant or work towards a positive outcome. Both can be powerful motivators if the 'why' behind your goal resonates deeply.

Also, recognize that motivation fueled solely by moving away from pain can backfire over time. Avoidance goals often lead to short-term compliance without long-term change. The "stick" of negative consequences loses impact when overused. The most lasting motivation comes from a combination of "carrots" and "sticks" - moving towards a compelling vision while also moving away from negative outcomes. Tap into the gravitational pull of purpose, meaning and potential as the carrot to keep you on track. But also maintain awareness of the sticks - the costs of not making a change. When the rocket fuel of pain avoidance starts to burn out, your vision of the carrot can sustain momentum. Use both positive possibilities and negative consequences mindfully to stay motivated over the long haul. Or at least into February!

Our beliefs also influence our ability to succeed. The language and "modal operators" clients use (and you!) reveal limiting or empowering beliefs about what is possible. Phrases like "I hope to," "I wish I could," or "I'm afraid I can't" suggest self-doubt and uncertainty. In contrast, "I will" and "I commit to" demonstrate determination and self-efficacy.

Thinking in terms of submodalities will give you clues as to whether a resolution is a must gonna do it or a wishy-washy hope and a pipe dream.

We also tend to overestimate our willpower. The reality is that motivation fluctuates. Accepting this and planning for those fluctuations can prevent derailment. Build in flexibility, and don't beat yourself up over setbacks. Reframe them as learning experiences.

Unless, of course, that is your go-to way of lacking commitment and lying to yourself. In which case, quit the excuses and dig in, pull up your bootstraps ( whatever they are), and quit being a quitter.

Speaking of mindset, optimism and self-belief are key. If you don't truly believe you can accomplish something, you likely won't. Focus on progress rather than perfection. Celebrate small wins.

Social support provides accountability and inspiration. Share your goals with others. Consider an accountability partner or online community. Collaboration increases commitment.

Share your wavering resolution with someone who doesn't really like you and give them permission to publicly hold you to account.

Finally, attach your goals to your values. Connecting goals to a deeper sense of meaning and purpose boosts motivation. Reflect on why a goal matters to you.

If your resolution didn't meet the conditions of well-formedness, it's no surprise it was abandoned. Set intentional, incremental goals tied to inner purpose. With flexibility, self-compassion, and support, you can make lasting change.

Another approach is to forgo resolutions altogether and simply focus on being present. Rather than fixing our sights on some future goal, we can choose to fully embrace each ordinary moment. Resolutions often come from a place of dissatisfaction with the now. But life is available for enjoying right here and right now if we allow it. An extraordinary day can be found in a series of ordinary moments when we dive into them deeply. Presence and gratitude open the door to daily joy without striving. Not setting resolutions certainly doesn't mean giving up - it opens up space for inspiration to arise organically. Being in tune with yourself each day allows you to move towards what energizes you. Instead of resolutions, cultivate mindfulness. See what emerges. This year, consider letting go of the fixation on results and watch what unfolds.

And, of course, if that doesn't work, there is always Lent.

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1 Comment

Debbie Konner
Jan 25

So beautifully, authentically written and with humor and lightness as well as complete inspiration/ motivation. The fact that there was More ways to achieve success was brilliant. Either focusing on the desire OR just feeling present and good /mindfulness now. Even if I didn't know Steve and Tina's styles, this would propel me to say Yes to my New Year's Goal (if I had one)

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