New Year’s Resolutions: Why They Don’t Work and How They Can

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? I gave them up some time ago. I got tired of them not working. I’d be gung ho at my new exercise or diet regime for about 10 days and then I’d have something happen that would give me an excuse not to go and then once I had one excuse, it was easier to find another and then another. By three weeks into the new year, I was back to my old ways. I think I spent more money on Gyms that I wound up going only a handful of times but kept the membership in the hopes that I’d get back next week. It was always next week and I’ll get myself there. Uh huh. Sound familiar?
I understand now why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. It is due to our lizard brain. That part of our brain that controls our fight or flight response system. These habits that we have such a hard time breaking yet resolve to do so each year, were created as part of the fight or flight response system. That part of our brain is about reacting and not thinking. Logic, doing what is really for our best health and well-being to our thinking brain, doesn’t work because we are in our reactionary brain. That tell us that to survive, we better stay with our other habits. That makes us feel safer. That is what we created at some point as we were in the midst of that fear-based mindset. Once in awhile, our will power can over ride it but it takes a LOT of willpower to do so and most of us don’t have that going for us.
Does that mean there is no hope for changing tough habits? Not at all. It means we have to use something other than willpower. It is willpower alone that doesn’t work. If we can add some more tools to using the initial willpower, then we have a shot at changing those habits. And we can remove some of the trapped emotions that created the habit in the first place and by doing so, that will help lower the strong drive leading us to the negative habit we wish to break.
Creating a new habit gets established and takes hold as we become more conscious and use are thinking brain more instead of the reactionary, lizard brain. That takes some effort but not as much as you’d think. It takes practice and sometimes having a coach on the side to help us identify when we are being triggered is helpful especially in the beginning. But you can use these simple tips to see if it doesn’t help you get into your thinking brain more.
Tip 1) Breathe! When we are in our triggered lizard brain, we breathe more shallowly. When we can get in full breaths, that slows down our heart rate, calms us down so our thinking brain can be accessed. Take a few deep breaths and see if you can’t hear the voice encouraging you to follow the way to the new habit.
Tip 2) After you take some full breaths, think of a few things you are grateful for. It doesn’t even have to be related to the habit you are trying to modify that you are grateful towards. Just think about things you are grateful about. I have several that are super easy because, again, when the fear brain is triggered, you can’t get to the thinking brain easily, so it must be something you can access easily to get thru that fear based state.
Tip 3) I use this phrase to help me make and take the healthier steps of what I want to change: “What would it take….” So once I breathe fully, and say a few things I’m grateful for, I will say, “What will it take to head to the swimming pool this morning?” Then I can think of things that will help me do that. “I can get up at 6:30 and go before I do my chores.” Or, “I can schedule out that time on my calendar so it is an appointment and I always keep my appointments.” I think of ideas and actionable steps that help me. IF it is too big a step, then I break it down into smaller achievable bites.
Tip 4) And this is a key tip. I don’t punish myself if I don’t succeed each time. I use to beat myself up about it. Now, I just think well, I’m making a life style change and that is going to be for the rest of my life that I’m going to head to the pool and swim so if I miss one time this week will it be the end of the world? No! I’d not go everyday for the rest of my life! So it takes the pressure off and if we aren’t in the guilt, blame, and shame part of our brain (which is actually more of the fear/lizard brain talking to us), then we can try again the next day.
Tip 5) Lastly, I praise myself when I DO go to the pool. Some days it is hard and my excuses and lizard brain are coming up with great rationals to avoid going to the pool. So when I can use the above tips and get there, I deserve to pat myself on the back and I tell myself, “YAY! You made it!” So make sure you praise yourself for making the effort and getting to the gym, for turning down the sweet and grabbing the healthier thing to eat or whatever it is you are trying to resolve to changing.