This is not to say that any death can simply be replaced by a birth. But rather this analogy is meant to illustrate that whether we are speaking about the physical parting of a human soul, the termination of a longstanding relationship, the loss of a job or even the metaphorical demise of an aspect of one self, all deaths produce means of new life through reflection, learning and growth. Even thinking about one’s own mortality has an effect on humans: causing us to conceive of thoughts and ideas we never did before or participating in activities we’ve been “putting off”.
While the shock of death causes us emotional pain – a pain we all deal with very differently – the important thing is to never allow oneself to dwell indefinitely. We, as a part of the earth and animal kingdom, cannot control the inevitability of death (though sometimes science makes scary attempts to do so). We can, however, control how we deal with death. And so, as we usher in the New Year, along with our annual resolutions, it only seemed appropriate to speak about learning from our pasts and using that learning to benefit our futures.
As a personal fitness trainer and an accredited nutritional expert boasting 35 years of experience working with all walks of life, a question my mom all too commonly encounters around this season is, “why do so many (an estimated 75%, in fact!) New Year’s resolutions fail?,” given that weight loss ranks among the highest in terms of resolution popularity.
Beyond just setting unrealistic and/or vague goals, researchers Mukhopadhyay and Johar point out that the very way in which many of us psychologically conceive of our self-promises may actually be setting us up to crash and burn. As their 2005 study entitled, Where There Is a Will, Is There a Way? Effects of Lay Theories of Self-Control on Setting and Keeping Resolutions, revealed resolution setters are not able to effectively accomplish what they’ve set out to do if they “believe” (and that’s the key word in this sentence) they lack inherent self-control. Moreover, the very phrasing of one’s resolutions (ie: the utilization of absolute terms such as “never” or “always”) may prove detrimental.
To this, psychologist Dr. Kit Yarrow adds that being dedicated to one’s goals may not be enough to resist temptation or bar pre-established psychological cues. Accordingly, she suggests for maximum effectiveness, one need to further change their routine as well as potentially the environment that is linked to the bad habits they’re trying to break. For example, if you always gorge on Cheetos and cola while watching the tele in your living room, repositioning your furniture, changing the location at which you spend your recreational time or adjusting the time period you commit to leisure within the same setting, can literally rewire your brain circuitry, thereby aiding in fulfilling your goals of self-renewal.
By far, the biggest contributor to resolution success or failure remains truly understanding what you’re getting yourself into. Prochaska and DiClemente’s “Stages of Change” model, first introduced in the late 1970s in a study that followed smokers who repeatedly tried to quit and repeatedly relapsed, reaffirms the necessity of introspection when grappling with goal setting. As they explain, a thorough investigation of the following three questions is a MUST before undergoing any action(s):
- Do you have the resources and knowledge to successfully make a lasting change? (defined as the “Readiness to Change”)
- Is there anything preventing you from changing? (defined as the “Barriers to Change”)
- What might trigger a return to a former behaviour(s)? (defined as the “Expectations and Circumstances Associated with Relapse”)
It’s commonly understood that it takes 28 days to break a bad habit and solidify a new proactive one. For the nicotine inhalers out there, they say, on average, it takes eight (yes, you read correctly) attempts to finally kick cigs to the curb. So, even if you’ve had minimal success in the past, do yourself a favour and “try, try again.”
Remember that breaking down large goals into smaller attainable milestones and providing yourself with access to moral support via your friends or the regular affirmation of your ability to start anew is ESSENTIAL. If you’ve spent this past year with me concluding that conducting an intensive introspection is much too daunting, perhaps working on a single New Year’s resolution will prove a good place for you to start ;)