The New Year approaches and many of us start thinking of resolutions. It can actually feel uplifting to begin a new plan such as joining a gym to get fit, writing one page a day for your next best-selling novel, or more prosaically, keeping up with your inbox.

But, as most of you know, the novelty wears off and you get bored and discouraged. You’re confronted with the arduous day to day challenge of sustaining your goals. Unexpected events throw you off course. You’re required to stay late at work, you can’t put down our smart phone or a relative gets sick.

Disappointingly, one day of missing the goal then leads to missing the next and next day, until your goal is abandoned.

In this post, I’m going to reveal to you where resolutions begin to unravel.

Most articles about New Year’s resolutions talk about setting practical goals and getting started, but I’m going to jump ahead and anticipate your first failure. Just as important as setting realistic and important S.M.A.R.T. goals is having a plan for how to keep going despite the inevitable setbacks you will encounter.

Disillusionment Stage
Let me introduce Stacey. Stacey has been very excited about her New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, be kinder to her husband, and implement a reward chart for her young boy. She’s discovering the dance class at the gym is lots of fun and she has even lost a few pounds. Her son loves the stickers he gets for keeping his room tidy. She’s also been enjoying her alone time with her husband more since she’s made an effort to be less critical and more supportive.

Then, on a mid-January morning Stacey can’t find her car keys. She also can’t find any stickers and leaves home without following through on the program she planned with her son. Stacey arrives late for the gym to find the parking lot is full. After circling for fifteen minutes, she leaves feeling very annoyed. She gets to work and feels awkward that she still has her gym clothes on and she has to explain the situation and re-live the frustration.

Starving and frustrated, Stacey furtively grabs a chocolate-covered donut from the work-kitchen. Stacey’s husband calls during work to say ‘hi’ and she snaps at him for something random, as she’s meanwhile harbouring resentment that he didn’t help find her car keys.

We all have such days. No one succeeds in accomplishing his or her goals without facing some unexpected setbacks. What, then, differentiates those who can pick themselves up and keep going from those who become just give up?

What Went Wrong?
As human beings, we constantly strive to understand our circumstances and, our purpose. It’s how we’re programmed. When something unpleasant happens to you, we often demand to know why. This explanation stage is crucial to understanding how you respond to setbacks.

Most of us look for a way to make sense of setbacks. We look to blame someone (oneself, a partner, the situation) and start feeling hopeless. If you believe the setback is something beyond your control, then you’ll feel helpless, frustrated and discouraged.

Those who are resilient persevere in face of adversity. In fact, some individuals even use setbacks to become even more determined to accomplish their goals. The large body of research on resilience demonstrates that those who can get back on track quickly after setbacks enjoy better moods, which lead to more productivity, and overall better health.

How can you use this information to help you overcome those rough days and stick to your New Year’s Resolutions?

In the mental health field, we know that some individuals are born with more resilient temperaments, even as infants, showing the capacity to soothe themselves quickly. Even if you weren’t born as one of these fortunate individuals, know that it’s not too late for you to develop your own resiliency capabilities.

Here is a mindset to help you become more resilient.

Develop realistic expectations.

Recognise that the unexpected (e.g., a sick child, power outage, miscommunication) is a part of life. Also, acknowledge that making changes takes time and that there may be a steep learning curve at the beginning. At times, it will take longer to accomplish your goals than you had originally anticipated.

However, this time doesn’t need to be a “waste of time.” Instead of saying “this shouldn’t happen,” or “I should already know how to do this,” recognise that setbacks are a part of life that leads to progress.

Appreciate that setbacks may even bring unexpected surprises.

Stacey might decide to talk to her husband about chores and discover he welcomes a heart-to heart with her; he’s been frustrated with her silent treatments and is relieved to know what’s bothering her. Or maybe Stacey will talk to her HR department at work about having healthier options in the kitchen.

Perhaps she’ll realise that she just had a slip with her son and his reward stickers and can talk to him tomorrow to explain the plan and get back on track. There are lots of options. Each day offers new opportunities to approach things just a bit differently, adding a process for efficiency, cultivating kindness and patience, or just having “one of those days.”

You might even consider making your New Year’s “Resolution” to become more resilient, to better able to find solutions and maintain your overall determination in all that you do. Resolve not to let small setbacks – or even large ones – throw you off your game.

Once you resolve to find a healthy determination and mindset to tackle problems one by one, you’ll be mentally and spiritually re-charged. Go ahead, set realistic goals, but also set one extra one – the goal of sticking with your plan when the going gets tough.

Let me know how you go, and if you enjoyed this post maybe your friends will too – please share.

Have a fantastic Christmas and New Year,

Richard Scott

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