Whether you are among the 45% of Americans who usually make New Year’s resolutions, or you are in the 38% who never make them (Statistics Brain Research Institute, 2015), chances are at some point you have wanted to make a change in your life. How successful you were depends significantly on where your motivation came from.
Often we are convinced that we need to change something about ourselves because of faulty assumptions that come from external sources. Ideas of beauty, fitness, intelligence, talent and success are all around us and can easily influence our self-perceptions, including our sense of worthiness and what it means to be exceptional.
Dove (the skin care company) conducted a global study that found a mere 4% of women consider themselves beautiful. Perhaps less surprising is that 54% of women agree that they are their own worst critics when it comes to how they look. The study revealed that these perceptions begin early and have a definite affect on quality of life, citing that “6 out of 10 girls are so concerned with the way they look, that they actually opt out of participating fully in daily life – from going swimming and playing sports, to visiting the doctor, going to school or even just offering their opinions.” (Dove, 2010)
This phenomenon is not limited to women. A study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that, “watching TV images of muscular, shirtless men lifting weights and selling cologne and deodorant left men feeling depressed and unhappy with their own muscles.” (Warner, 2004)
Change is difficult and can be uncomfortable. Sometimes even our relationships are impacted in ways we didn’t envision. Having the right motivation is essential to keep us going when the inevitable obstacles appear.
When a desire is motivated by self-hate, low self-esteem, or because you (or someone else) think you should do something, your motivation is unlikely to last or result in true happiness. On the other hand, a desire that aligns with your core beliefs and moves you closer to your true self is empowering. Making a resolution to be healthier because it is important to you to be active and present for your kids will be easier to stick with than a resolution to lose weight so you can meet some unrealistic standard of beauty.
“To be motivated, your heart has to be in it,” writes Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT. “Inspiration infuses you with energy and power. It stimulates your creativity, promises a better future, or connects you to a larger purpose. It fills you with positive emotions that overcome fear and inertia.” Doing something for someone else’s approval, or simply for monetary gain, will be less successful than doing what “expresses your true self and fosters your highest good.”
Lancer offers these tips:
- Heighten self-awareness. If your resolution is to change your habits, self-awareness and vigilance are needed in order to interrupt old patterns. Daily meditation and journaling are potent and helpful tools in monitoring and changing your thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
- Encourage yourself. Become a positive coach, and continually give yourself positive feedback, praise, and recognition. Look for small signs of progress and celebrate them… Self-doubt and negative self-talk paralyze you in a past expression of yourself. They sap energy and motivation, and can easily persuade you to give up. If you aren’t making progress or if you slip into old habits, don’t dwell on your “mistake.” Rather than stay stuck in self-judgment and guilt, admit what you did or didn’t do, and quickly get back on track. Stay solution-oriented… Self-forgiveness improves both self-esteem and future behavior.
- Have a vision. To create a powerful motivation for change, picture yourself as you’d like to be and see yourself happy and confident behaving in the new way. Rather than focusing on what you don’t want, focus on what you desire. Imagine what it would be like if you were the future you in this moment… Notice the expression on your face, and experience how you would feel in your body. See the future you as having accomplished your goals. Experience yourself feeling proud, happy, and confident. See people in your life responding favorably to you.
More important than telling yourself you’ll “start that diet on Monday,” is taking the time to uncover what you are ultimately trying to achieve. Focus on what is meaningful to you, what brings you joy, and what moves you in the direction of the best “you” – according to you.
Surprisingly enough, listening to yourself can prove to be very difficult. Really hearing that honest inner voice without all the other mental clutter is a skill that takes effort to develop. A caring, honest, and unbiased person to help you sort through your thoughts and feelings is invaluable to not only discovering your unique direction through life but also in giving you the tools to continue plotting that course in the future. A therapist is the ideal candidate for this role, because their goal is to help you discover your path, not to just influence where that path leads. Put simply, they are more like your headlights than your steering wheel or gas pedal. You are in control, but you are also far more aware of the direction you are taking.
Statistic Brain Research Institute (2015). New Years Resolution Statistics. StatisticBrain.com. Retrieved on January 26, 2016, from www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/
Dove (2010). The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited. Dove.com. Retrieved on January 26, 2016, from https://www.dove.com/uk/stories/about-dove/our-vision.html
Warner, J. (2004) Ads With Muscular Male Models May Hurt Men’s Body Image. WebMD.com. Retrieved on January 26, 2016, from https://www.webmd.com/depression/news/20040507/male-self-esteem
Lancer, D. (2013). 5 Tips on How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2016, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/5-tips-on-how-to-keep-new-years-resolutions-2/