By Jeanette Arnold, MSW, LCSW, ACSW
Most people make New Year's resolutions to fix something so they’ll feel better during the coming year than they did during the previous year. Seems simple, right? Not really. While three quarters of New Year's resolutions fail, it’s helpful to look at the reasons why one quarter succeed.
After a lifetime of failed resolutions, a friend of mine finally made one that was a monumental success: he forgave everyone he had ever known -- past, present and future. He even forgave money debts owed to him. Three years later, he says it changed his life. He feels better, his focus has changed, the future has a clarity he would never have imagined. His life at work, at home, with family and friends, has improved. He says it was like someone turned on a light and everything was illuminated for him.
Here’s a primer on how to make your New Year's resolutions a reality. We’ll call it “Transformation 101.”
- Selfishness is not a bad thing when used correctly. My friend admits his entire purpose was to make himself feel good so he'd stop feeling bad. He had problems with guilt, resentment, paranoia, bad temper. While the world saw intermittent grumpiness and reclusive behavior, inside it was even worse. He had to do away with the need to retaliate, pay back, or even care if someone was trying to tamper with him. It worked.
- Uncover the real issue. My friend told me his favorite adage about weight loss is that it's not what you're eating, it's what's eating you. He needed to forgive -- not because anyone did him wrong, but because he held grudges that would last for years. He had a problem letting things go, even after the situation had ended, all the way back to his childhood. While preparing for his resolution, he read that a grudge was like taking poison and hoping the other guy would die. So he realized that forgiveness has very little to do with other people. He had to change his reaction to life's “down times.” The tool was to forgive. It worked. It made him feel better.
- Resolve to do something within your power. Experts on resolution-making agree that many failed resolutions result from aiming too high. My friend said he thought about this a long time. A couple of people told him they couldn't forgive so immediately. He replied, why not? His resolution to forgive may have taken resolve, but it was certainly within his reach.
- Know how the resolution is going to help. Resolutions fix something. My friend says every time a negative memory sneaks into his day, he immediately “hits the reset button” because he has forgiven the perpetrator. So what was “fixed?” My friend gained back all the time needed to replay past traumas. He is no longer squandering brainpower, emotional stress and time -- all valuable commodities.
- Plan. My friend looked up forgiveness in the dictionary, in encyclopedias, even texts from different religions. He thoroughly prepared himself for what was ahead so that the challenge, when it came, was no mystery.
- Reward yourself. My friend believed his resolution was its own reward. But for many people the route to success is to reward yourself with something that doesn't involve the bad habit you're trying to break. For example, at every weight loss goal achieved or week without a cigarette, treat yourself to a spa service. Reward exercise with a movie rather than a burger.
- Maintain an optimistic outlook. If you're thinking you can't do that, you'll crash and burn. Look for the great outcome, even with some stumbles. Strive for the miracle. “There are two ways to live your life,” says Albert Einstein. “One is to see nothing as a miracle; the other is to see everything as a miracle.”
If you would like some help making positive changes in the new year, please contact BJC EAP.