New year, new you trap?

We are two weeks into the new year. I wonder how many of us are already experiencing guilt for breaking the resolutions we'd made? I’m not aware of any statistical data about this, and my conclusion from anecdotal data is that the number will be high. 

As I am writing this, I’m accounting for the different factors that influence our thinking about a new year being the only or primary time we can make changes. Arguably, the main factor responsible is the media; that is the countless messages that surround us. So, now I’m wondering why so many of us, year on year, continue to engage in this self-limiting behaviour, of making resolutions which leave us feeling heavily weighed down by immense guilt. 

Transactional analysis is premised on our personality being structured in three parts; our Parent, Adult and Child. These are essentially different systems made up of thinking, feelings and behaviours.

The Parent part consists of messages borrowed by the ‘big’ people that were around us as we were growing up (i.e. our primary carer/s, older siblings, teachers) - about what we ‘should’, ‘ought’ and ‘need’ to do. In short, it is the internal ‘rule book’ we carry around in our heads.

The Child part is made up of the meaning we made of experiences that we had during our childhoods, and subsequent conclusions or decisions we went on to make about ourselves, others and the quality of life. Many of these conclusions and decisions are likely to have been made out of our awareness and, usually, the most core of these are made at a time we have magical thinking. This is taking into account that our cognitive capacities are significantly different from when we are children, in comparison to when we reach adulthood - considering that many of us believe in magic, fairies, and Santa Claus as children.

Finally, the Adult part is grounded in the present, including using all the resources (internal and external) we have in 2021, and our feelings experienced in direct response to what is happening in the here and now.

Woman walking through a park

My understanding is that resolutions are made from our Child part, thus, are likely to involve some extent of magical thinking i.e. of how we may get from where we are, to whatever we need to do. Further, they are made as a promise to our Parent part, as a means of intra-physically being a ‘good’ boy or girl to please the Parent part. Thus, I invite us to consider what we want and make decisions, i.e. to change what is not working well for us at present, and what we are going to do differently. 

A necessary part of this is good contracting with ourselves. A way of doing this is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-specific):

  • Being specific involves clearly defining the goal, including the where, when and with whom you are going to do the steps towards the goal.
  • Being measurable is about considering pointers that indicate you are on your way.
  • Being achievable involves considering whether one other person in the world has achieved it, including someone in your culture, and remembering that we cannot ‘make’ another person change.
  • Relevance is about the goal being meaningful to you, and considering the likely resources and costs in terms of money, commitment and potential upheaval involved, and it being time-specific

Further, it is important to remember that our Child part is the most influential when making changes. Therefore, until the Child is convinced of the safety and efficacy of what we are doing, it will not be achieved as the Child part will sabotage us.

This is taking account that our Child part is the first part of our personality we are born with and is driven to survive, (both physically and psychologically). In short, this part has worked very hard from the start at trying to keep us safe, thus, may resist the unpredictability that making changes presents.

My experience is to make the actions towards achieving a given goal fun, if possible. Creativity is the language of an actual child, so this will reduce how daunting it may feel.

For example, if the resolution is to lose weight, the first thing to consider is how this translates to a S.M.A.R.T. goal. This could involve a person specifying their want of being able to engage in a half-hour game of badminton by the start of Spring. This could include implementing the strategy of engaging in a home fitness video three times a week, on given days with their partner.

A lack of experiencing breathlessness when taking a flight of stairs could signify that they are going towards their goal. If their partner was unwilling to continue engaging in their agreed fitness routine, this person could consider a contingency. As part of creating fun, the use of a mini trampoline and/or trying out making a buddha bowl recipe could be used.

I invite us to stop making resolutions considering that promises can be broken. Instead, to make decisions which afford the possibility of being re-decided opposed to ‘failed’. In short, let's avoid the new year trap by making decisions, not promises.

A healthy and happy 2021 to one and all.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Oldbury, West Midlands, B68 0DL

Written by Reena Purewal

Oldbury, West Midlands, B68 0DL

I am a qualified psychotherapeutic counsellor whom has a range of experience, including developed by my several years practising as a social worker.

I enjoy taking walks, experimenting with cooking new dishes, listening to podcasts, and occasionally bingeing on a Netflix series.

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