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Dating as far back as the biblical days, we humans have set goals and intentions for ourselves to carry out during the transition from one year to the next. Something that we’ve come to know as “New Year’s resolutions” are admirable efforts we put in place to better ourselves — our health, our relationships, our financial situations, etc. And there’s absolutely no drawbacks when it comes to setting these yearly intentions. In fact, Kekua Kobashigawa, women’s empowerment coach and owner of HBIC development, points out that resolutions can be fantastic opportunities to take an honest look at ourselves and how we are living our lives and be specific about what we want to improve.
The drawback to setting intentions during this one and very specific time of year, however, is that it’s accompanied by immense pressure and guilt should we miss the mark. “When people feel that they’re only successful if they accomplish certain goals by a predetermined date, it negates the incremental nature of change,” says licensed therapist Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, owner and founder of Take Root Therapy in Los Angeles. “Change is not linear, and it is best to expect both forward and backward movement as one seeks to create change in their lives.”
Rather than serving as an opportunity to take a true and honest look at your life and make the slow and beneficial changes that will yield healthier and happier results, too many of us are stuck in a rut of rushing to set intentions that few of us wind up keeping. In fact, according to a survey by Discover Happy Habits, only about 7 percent of participants stuck to each of their resolutions, with 8 percent failing to follow through with any of the resolutions they set.
The key is to not give up — even if you don’t follow things to a T. Here, experts share how to rebound if you’ve already ruined your New Year’s resolution.
1. Give Yourself Grace
One thing you can never have enough of is self-compassion, especially during times when you need it most, like when you missed the mark on something you intended to do. So if you have blown your New Year’s resolution, licensed therapist Kaitlin Soule, LMFT, author of A Little Less of a Hot Mess: The Modern Mom’s Guide to Growth & Evolution (The Collective Book Studio, 2022), recommends resisting the urge to shame yourself by falling into negative self-talk or behavioral patterns. “The best way to give yourself grace, or practice self-compassion, is to talk to yourself in the same encouraging and loving way you would a dear friend,” she says. “This doesn’t mean you have to go cheerleader mode on yourself, but instead of saying something along the lines of ‘Wow, you blew it again … just like you always do,’ try saying something like ‘That was hard, and you can try again.’”
2. Learn From the Experience
If you didn’t meet your goal, Danielle Keenan-Miller, Ph.D., director of the UCLA Psychology Clinic in the UCLA Department of Psychology, suggests using it as a chance to learn. “Professional athletes don’t win every race they enter, hit every free throw or land every trick the first time they try it, but instead of giving up when something goes awry, they review the tape and figure out what they can do better next time,” she explains. “We should use the information we learned to tweak our practice when we stumble along the path to success.”
3. Assess Whether Your Goal Was Realistic
Once you’ve given yourself some compassion, consider taking a hard look at why you might not have been able to achieve your goal. Perhaps it wasn’t motivating enough, or it was too difficult to fit into your day-to-day life. If your goal is a giant change from your current state, Keenan-Miller suggests setting a more moderate goal. “Revisit your total goal once you can reliably achieve your more moderate goal,” she says. “For example, if you walk 2,500 steps per day now, a goal of 10,000 steps is likely to be discouraging, but a goal of 4,000 steps a day might be achievable, particularly if paired with a concrete plan for how those extra steps can be achieved.”
4. Remember Your “Why”
One of the biggest reasons we have trouble sticking with the goals we set is because we didn’t make sure it matched our resources, needs and lifestyle, according to Soule. She recommends doing a gut check: Ask yourself why you set the resolution or goal in the first place. “If you determine that the goal does align with your life values (i.e., good health, financial security, healthy relationships), remind yourself of the ‘why’ behind the change you are making,” she says. “For example, if you set the goal to be more physically fit and you signed up for an exercise regimen that you hate, ditch it and try a different type of movement.”
5. Start Over, but Start Smaller
Give yourself permission to keep certain resolutions you might have broken if you still believe that they are a fit for your life. “If you feel like you’re struggling to stick with a resolution and the intention behind the resolution feels truly meaningful for you, start again and start smaller,” she says. If your goal is to be more present in your day-to-day life, for example, and you failed to follow through with the 30-minute meditations as set in your resolution, Soule suggests simply committing to a smaller chunk of time or even just a minute of breathwork while you’re making the morning coffee.
6. Recruit a Team
Research has shown that we’re more likely to meet goals when we’ve shared them with others —especially if it’s someone of a higher status workwise or someone who we admire. While you don’t have to announce all your goals to the world, recruiting a few people in your life to help or cheer you on can be quite beneficial, according to Keenan-Miller. “For example, you might have a friend who has achieved a similar goal and could share wisdom with you — or maybe you just need someone to recognize your accomplishments and cheer you on,” she adds.