If you read the statistics on the number of people who actually succeed in achieving their New Year’s resolutions you will quickly lose hope! The literature says that most of us-88%- don’t last through the end of January. However, researchers are studying the concept of willpower and self-control in an effort to understand how those who do follow through with their resolutions manage to succeed. There are some common denominators in the way in which people realize their goals. One factor that I find compelling is the idea of setting a goal and then not trying to accomplish it alone. As a therapist this resonates for me because I see the power of walking alongside a client in their healing journey and the positive impact it can have.
Although our culture often supports the idea of “every man for himself” and has particular admiration for the person who overcomes all obstacles and climbs the mountain alone, research tells us that when you let others know about your intentions and enlist their guidance and support throughout the process, you are more likely to succeed. This is often described as “outsourcing” willpower or self-control. This has proven to be more effective than just relying on yourself to always have the motivation and the drive to keep your eyes on the prize. When you go it alone, it is much harder to resist temptation or the desire to give up. It’s more challenging to make the tough sacrifices and to stay with the difficult choices that are required to help you reach your goals.
So whatever your goals are, tell trusted friends and loved ones. Let them help you make the resolution tangible, specific, and manageable. Brainstorm with others about the ways in which they can help you to stay on track. It might be useful to give others a weekly update of your accomplishments, no matter how small. In addition to having loved ones remind you of the sweetness of the finish line, be sure to notice the journey itself: the successful steps along the way that can be equally rewarding and worthy of attention. Find ways to celebrate with others as you incrementally move towards the realization of your resolutions. Sharing those positive moments with others makes it even more rewarding. You might benefit from personal “cheerleaders” who send you encouraging text messages, e-mails and voicemails. When you know that others are proud of you and believe in you, it serves as an extra source of motivation and inspiration and goes a long way. If you know you will be in a situation that is tempting or will potentially compromise your goals, ask a friend to “have your back” and provide extra ego-strength so you stay strong. Or enlist their help in avoiding a situation that threatens your ability to realize your goals.
Oftentimes, when you allow other people to share in your vision and your journey, you motive them as well. A friend who supports your endeavors might become so inspired that they decide to join you in the same resolution. Or your determination and drive might enable them to identify a personal goal they want to realize. The mutual and reciprocal experience of supporting one another also increases the odds that the goals will be reached! When you allow others to share in the ups and downs of your journey, you will get the necessary non-judgmental support that enables you to get back up and try again when you relapse, slip, or plateau in your progress. Many people give up on their resolutions the first time they deviate from their new behavior and fall back into old patterns. Sometimes, it’s a friend or a loved one’s faith in your ability to get back up and try again- that “outsourced willpower” that is the true secret to success.
Feel free to share with us a time when the encouragement of a friend or loved one made the difference and helped you realize your goals and resolutions.