How many years have you made New Year’s resolutions only to look back and feel disappointed? There are many reasons resolutions don’t work. Expectations tend to be too high; we frame them with absolutes such as always or never; we focus on the outcome rather than the process. Over the last 5 years our family and friends have taken an alternative approach to our resolutions by creating collages of our goals and visions of coming year. We then gather to discuss our resolutions in an positive manner. This year I am inviting you to join us virtually.
“Get creative with your resolutions this year. I encourage you to embrace a positive approach that builds upon the foundation of your existing strengths. Allow yourself to follow your heart and turn your attention to what brings you joy. If you choose to nudge yourself out of your comfort zone, consider asking for the support that you need to be successful.” -Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Why Resolutions Fail
According to an social psychologist Amy Cuddy, one of the reasons that our New Year’s resolutions fail is that they are framed in negativity–we tend to focus on the things that we dislike or perceive wrong about ourselves. For example, we critique ourselves as overweight and lazy or compare ourselves to unrealistic role models. Additionally, our resolutions tend to fail when our expectations are too high; the resolutions contain absolutes such as always or never or they focus on the outcome rather than the process.
Amy Cuddy’s approach to resolutions is to gently nudge yourself towards realistic goals without shaming yourself in the process. It takes courage and commitment to start something new. For example, last January I challenged myself to write a blog. To keep my goal realistic I only asked myself to produce a single post and see how it felt. I now look back at over 30 posts produced; a creative process that has felt not only effortless but also reinforcing, thanks to readers like you.
A Positive Approach to Change
Our expectations inform our perceptions in life. For example, when I changed my therapeutic approach from trauma-informed therapy to resilience informed treatment, my focus broadened to hear not only the stories of pain and struggle that my clients had experienced but also the remarkable strengths that allowed them to persevere through hardship. Positive psychology focuses on what is already working. What are your strengths and how do you build on that foundation? What do you already do well? For example, do you already go to the gym twice a week and enjoy your workout. If your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more can you extend your existing workout program by 10 minutes or add one more day a week?
Truth be told, we are more likely to stay committed to activities that we enjoy than those we dislike. So start by turning the volume up on the parts of your life that are already working. For example, our family loves to get outdoors together by hiking and camping. These resolutions remain on our collage year after year because they have a high success rate. We feel proud at the end of the year to see that we did follow through with our goal to get outside and enjoy this beautiful world!
Expanding your Comfort Zone
Research suggests that we optimize our performance when we step out of our comfort zone into our learning zone. The Yerkes-Dodson law reveals that moving out of our comfort zone brings stress. However, too much stress creates anxiety which interferes with change. Therefore finding the right amount of challenge is essential to facilitating successful change.
If you choose a New Year’s resolution that nudges you out of your comfort zone, develop the kind of supports that you need to be successful. For example, one of the resolutions that I set last year was to expand the internet presence of my business. However, as a psychologist I am trained in people skills, not website design. Finding the right support in a website designer allowed this goal to become creative and enjoyable.
Over the past 5 years our family has taken an alternative approach to New Year’s resolutions that is not only fun but has produced successful outcomes. We gather with friends and each family or individual creates a collage vision board with goals, hopes, and intentions for the coming year. During our gathering we also look at the previous year’s collage to celebrate the successes and examine those that did not come to fruition. A visual arts approach to resolutions gets us out of linear thinking and may just increase access to our wisdom and intuition. An added benefit is creative endeavors decrease negative emotions, boost positive emotions, and improve flow.
This year, I’m inviting you to join in the tradition. Here is what you will need: a stack of magazines, scissors, glue, and an open mind. Set aside some time on your own, with your family, or with friends. Allow yourself to find pictures that inspire you, that speak to your heart, and that reflect your goals. You can cut out words or phrases, add-on with markers, or let the images speak for themselves. Keep the following questions in mind:
- What brings you joy and happiness?
- What comes easily to you?
- What brings meaning or purpose to your life?
- What kinds of support do you need to meet your goals?
If you’d like, share a photo of your vision board and I wish you a Happy New Year!
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About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Fall, 2016). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.