Don’t let self-doubt make your resolutions self-destruct

As submitted for publication in Recorder Community Newspapers, January 11, 2007

I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight

When you wish upon a star, you are really expressing a dream. And whether you wish for a new sports car, lower numbers on the bathroom scale, or to make the world a better place, you want to feel uplifted by the thought of a better future. It is this inspiration that many of us seek when we decide upon a New Year’s resolution.

However, some resolutions, like dreams, are more illusion than reality. They tantalize with the image of a beautiful destination but do not include a path or bridge to get there. So, if we are drawn to the image without any further thought, we are likely to find ourselves lost, or worse, stuck in the mud of self-reproach for having failed.

To draw a map of how to proceed once you have a dream, you need to develop goals and objectives. Goals state what needs to be accomplished to achieve your dream. If your dream is a new car, decide which car you want and figure out how much money you will need to earn to buy it. The goals for helping save the world would certainly be more involved. However, we find a wonderful, local role model in the recently deceased Irwin Richardt. He had a goal to “stand up” for what he believed through words and actions.

Next, decide on some objectives. Objectives are steps along the way toward achieving your goals. You might be able to afford a new car by working overtime at your job. As for making a difference on a larger scale, Mr. Richardt provided an example by often publicly pronouncing his unique views on many issues. In fact, he even gave up driving because he did not want to pay automobile insurance, which he viewed as unconstitutional.

Once you have mapped out a way to get to your New Year’s dream, you know your path and can begin the journey. However, even with such a well-thought-out plan, there is one big obstacle that might get in your way. That obstacle is YOU.

Many of us often fail to achieve our dreams because of our self-perceptions. We fool ourselves into thinking we have identified workable goals and objectives when, in fact, our vision remains a dream. We dream of being a person who can follow through with our plan, but we don’t believe we are that person. So, we make careful note of how difficult the new path is and vigilantly pay attention to all the times that we trip or fall. All we see is how inept we are. Eventually, we give up trying and return, disheartened, to our more familiar, less appealing path.

This is a journey that most of us have experienced, more times than we care to admit. A common scenario might go like this: Stacy has made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Though she has tried dieting many times in the past, she’s never been able to keep the weight off. She sees herself as having no self-control with food, but this year, she thinks, she is going to be different. She resolves to eat healthy and lose weight. So, she starts the year with a balanced diet and feels good about it.

This sounds like a great start, right? Right…except for the part about believing she cannot control herself around food. This eventually causes her problems…

One day Stacy goes to the movies with a friend. She resolutely decides not to buy any snacks. However, as she sits next to her friend who is happily chomping away on popcorn, she cannot resist. So, she takes just one small handful. Unfortunately, before she knows it, she is munching along with her friend. Later Stacy chastises herself for doing this—not just for making a mistake in judgment, but for being who she knew she is (someone who cannot control her eating). Even though she gets back to her plan for healthy eating the next day, she is that much more sure that she will fail. After a few more “slips”, she accepts that she is incapable of healthy eating and gives up trying. The end of this story is almost inevitable from the start because Stacy began with accepting that she is incapable of healthy eating.

However, an awareness of this self-perception would provide her with the opportunity to challenge it. And doing so could change the outcome for Stacy. The story would then end like this…

Stacy focused on all the times that she made wise food choices. She then realized that she is capable of healthy eating. She accepted her “slips” as isolated incidents of poor eating, rather than as revealing an inherent character flaw. In time, she built her self-confidence in healthy eating and episodes of overeating or making poor choices became momentary setbacks, not defining moments. Eventually, she lost weight, felt good about her eating habits, and felt much better about her life.

Whatever your particular goals are, remember that attitude is essential. You can increase your chances of succeeding by praising your own striving, recognizing your progress, and accepting your mistakes as momentary setbacks (and maybe even as learning experiences).
As you review your New Year’s resolution, or belatedly develop one, take the time to clearly define what you want. Find your motivation in your dreams. But place importance on the process of following your goals and objectives to that dream. And use your attitude to keep you on the path.

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