The Opportunity in Failed Resolutions

The Opportunity in Failed Resolutions by Em Capito, LCSW, MBAResolutions rarely go as planned. Great!

Perfection is boring, blunders show us where we are, and surprise difficulties can be serendipitous openings toward something better.

We’re 10 days into the new year, and it would seem most resolutions are doomed to fail by day 17 or so.

Behavior change can be hard. 

It’s much harder when we shame ourselves for failing…for clearly being not good enough.

Many of the behaviors we want to change are intertwined with reinforcing conditions that go deeper than willpower. 

If I believe I’m not good enough because (fill in the blank), that underlying script is likely to create a shame loop of unrealistic attempts to change, followed by devastating proof of my not-good-enoughness.

Instead of giving up on our good intentions, perhaps we can respond to deviations like scientists:

What is the intention? For example: working out > health, strength, energy

What are the unspoken motives? Perhaps: working out > lose weight…become good enough…don’t die alone

What happened, and why? Slept through my workout time 3 days in a row…because I suck

When I let my familiar script run the show, I might give up the whole intention of working out after three days of failing to meet my expectations.

I might even binge on a bunch of leftover holiday treats, throwing up my hands in wild surrender to the mysterious immovable forces that prevent me from going to the gym 100% more than normal at my illustrious prescribed daily time.

Oh well, try again next year. Now back to my regularly scheduled programming. 

Or…I can probe a little deeper.

I can learn that 6:00 am is not highly correlated with motivation to leave my warm bed and go out in the cold to move my body in uncomfortable ways. And perhaps also that I avoid the gym because it triggers body shame.

I can start again more wisely with weekday walks with a colleague, and weekend yoga classes designed to compassionately dredge up my destructive self-talk so that I can talk back, with real strength and love (hint hint).

Big, sweeping changes can be fun and motivating. A dramatic everyday streak can help keep you going when you might otherwise put something off for the next day.

I’m a big fan of intimidating goals, but perhaps the more meaningful challenge is finding that second wind after hitting the wall.

So when your new year’s resolve begins to crumble, think: YES!

You now have an opportunity to practice resilience, a superpower that will fuel this year’s intention, and all those to come as we make the small trajectory shifts that ultimately change everything.


P.S. This is why I teach my resilience course to any and all helping professionals – because anyone working with behavior change, from personal trainers to dietitians to therapists can be part of the problem, or part of discovering and challenging the lifelong, self-affirming beliefs that drive the habits our clients desperately wish to jettison.

2 Comments
  1. “I’m a big fan of intimidating goals, but perhaps the more meaningful challenge is finding that second wind after hitting the wall.

    So when your new year’s resolve begins to crumble, think: YES!

    You now have an opportunity to practice resilience…”

    I love this framing, Emily. I’m a perfectionist at heart but as I get older, I am beginning to see that trait in a new light: as something to get over, finally. Perfection is boring, as you said…and infuriating, because it’s a tease.

    I’ve never been particularly good at dealing with failure, but am trying to build a plan for the inevitable trip up, the inevitable stumble. As I write out my plans for this year, they have a plan for what happens when I mess up. “When I break my workout streak, then I’ll do this…when I miss my Monday blog post schedule, then I write on Monday night and publish on Tuesday.” Stuff like that.

    For me, my resiliency might come in the form of a plan.

    1. Thanks, DB40! It’s an interesting argument – some would say: Don’t plan to fail! Others: If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

      I like a suggestion I heard on the More Happy Life podcast (link below) to measure life by both our planned accomplishments AND by serendipity – which of course requires the awareness and flexibility to see beyond our plan to the signs and invitations to something even better as life unfolds.

      I believe it was this episode with Richard Eyre::
      https://morehappylife.co/the-happiness-paradox-with-nyt-1-best-selling-author-richard-eyre/

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