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Why Resolutions Don’t Work & How to Create Real, Lasting Change

New Years Resolutions

“I can affect change by transforming the only thing that I ever had control over in the first place and that is myself.” ~Deepak Chopra

As the New Year quickly approaches, many of us spend time in review and reflection of the past year’s events and initiate strategic planning for the upcoming year.

We create and contemplate lists of resolutions, often featuring some of the same goals from the previous year. But we convince ourselves that this is going to be the year for change and transformation.

So, on January 1st, we arise, excited and committed to our new or repeated goals of exercising regularly, eating healthy, waking up earlier, taking a new class, searching for a new job and career, saving money, releasing bad habits, and the list goes on and on.

Yet, by Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the thrill and fervor have dwindled, and by mid-year our resolutions have fallen by the wayside—and our lives look exactly as they did the previous year.

For several years, I was painfully stuck in my own life. I desperately sought change, but did not know how to transition myself out of a city that had been home for eighteen years.

Although I decided each year that this would be my last year living in New York and that I would find my purpose and calling, each year I found myself renewing my lease and still selling real estate.

I became increasingly dissatisfied with my life, constantly yearning for the things and people I thought would make me happy.

But, nearly four years ago, I made the most important decision of my life: to authentically grow and change myself and my life from the inside out.

Once I began the internal work to create peace and change within myself, through a self-taught meditation and gratitude practice, the external landscape of my life began to slowly change.

I am now happily living on a paradise island and doing work that fulfills my heart, my life, and my purpose.

Why Resolutions Don’t Work and Intentions Do

Wouldn’t it be great if writing our resolutions also gave us the power, discipline, and determination to achieve our goals? Well, unfortunately it doesn’t. Our commitment to our resolutions can fade as quickly as the ink fades from the paper.

Resolutions do not work for us because more often than not, they include making changes to behavior and objects that exist outside of us. Until we change what’s on the inside, we cannot change what’s on the outside.

Eventually, we will go back to making the same choices, whether consciously or unconsciously. As the late, sage spiritual teacher, Dr. Wayne Dyer often quoted, “When you squeeze an orange you get orange juice because that’s what’s inside of you.”

If there’s anger, fear, low self-worth, jealousy, resentment, or other negative beliefs inside of us, even if we attempt to change the skin to our fruit, shine and polish it, or plant and grow it in a different location, what comes out of will still be what’s on the inside.

A resolution will never create a lasting transformation if we don’t change the root and inside of our fruit (our heart).

Even the word itself, “resolution,” implies “a firm decision to do or not do something, to be absolutely resolute.” This allows no fluidity or flexibility.

When we lovingly embrace and accept ourselves, focus our attention on what we want instead of what we don’t want, and set fluid intentions for the New Year, we are more likely to naturally flow toward choices that are aligned with our goals and achieve our desired results.

8 Steps To Create Real and Lasting Change

1. Love and accept yourself.

Change doesn’t come by berating, judging, and criticizing ourselves; it comes from lovingly accepting the things we cannot change and growing each day to change the things we can.

This does not mean we cannot improve. It means that we are lovable where we are. Wherever we’re starting from is the perfect starting place. Practicing self-love is paramount to creating transformational shifts in our lives.

Be kind, patient, gentle, and compassionate with yourself. Treat yourself as you would a two-year old child.

I used and continue to repeat this powerful affirmation daily:

 “I deeply and completely love and approve of myself. I accept the things I cannot change and grow to change the things I can.”

Whenever I feel fear, doubt, insecurity, or anxiety, I repeat this over and over silently in my mind and it engenders the most calming effect over me.

 2. Practice self-awareness.

If we are not aware of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, beliefs, likes, dislikes, or fears, then we are missing the starting place for change.

Consider spending time in quiet meditation and reflection, asking yourself, “What are my deepest fears and insecurities? Who am I still angry with and whom do I need to forgive? Whose approval am I seeking? Who will I disappoint if I change or succeed? What do I see and feel when I look in the mirror? And where did I learn it?”

Being fully aware of who we are and what we believe will help us end self-sabotage, make clearer choices, and create change in the present and future. Put on some calming music, light some candles, and bring a journal to your meditation. Write honestly and fluidly. Don’t think too much. Allow the pen to be the speaker of your subconscious.

3. Change old, negative beliefs into new, empowering beliefs.

Many of us hold unconscious, negative beliefs that we learned as children from our parents, grandparents, teachers, leaders, cultural and religious institutions, or the media.

Our actions stem from our beliefs. If our current belief is “I am too old and boring to find happiness,” then our brain will guide us, whether consciously or unconsciously, to find evidence that supports this belief, and our choices will reinforce it.

We can change this belief by first creating an affirmation that reflects the new belief we want to adopt, such as “I am youthful, healthy, and full of energy and vitality, and my life is filled with joy and pleasure.”

Then we can search for evidence in our lives to support this different, positive belief, such as “I went for a run this morning,” “I had fun at a party last week,” “I enjoy going to the movies and museums.”

Additionally, we can make a conscious choice to search for activities and experiences that align with our new belief, such as electing to spend time with friends that inspire and uplift us, taking up a new class or hobby, joining a club or organization, or volunteering with children.

Through our focused attention, and with time and practice, our new belief becomes embedded into our subconscious minds, and we begin to search for people, opportunities, and experiences that match it.

4. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. 

I recognized that I was creating my own unhappiness by focusing on the negative. The moment I stopped complaining and focusing on the things I didn’t like about living in New York City, things began to dramatically shift for me.

By letting go of my own resistance and focusing instead on the important things I wanted to create, a new career and to live by the ocean, I was able to focus on the steps necessary to create that life.

If we change our mindset, from moving away from something to moving toward something, our thoughts begin to shift and then our actions begin to shift. Then we make choices that align with our new desires. What we give our attention to will always expand.

5. Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is the gateway to creating peace and happiness in our lives. It is the starting point to creating change. A grateful heart is a loving heart, which draws more love into our lives.

I started a gratitude practice four years ago and it changed my mindset completely. I think more loving, positive thoughts, which in turn, create more loving and positive experiences.

There is always something to be grateful for. Simply writing five to ten things you’re grateful for daily will begin to shift your mindset and move you toward the changes you’re seeking.

6. Set realistic, achievable goals and take actionable steps.

Sometimes we seek change so desperately that we set huge goals that we can’t achieve quickly and are left disappointed. But starting with a small goal and growing into a larger goal can often create a more lasting, impactful change.

Be honest with yourself and set a goal that resonates within you and seems achievable. For instance, maybe start with half of your weight loss goals for the year of 2016. Or save up a portion of the money you would like saved by the year’s end. Maybe plan to have your business plan completed rather than the entire business up and running within a year.

Rise each day committed to taking an actionable step toward your goals and intentions. It doesn’t matter how small or big the step. Just take a step. It is the series of small steps that create our big steps.

7. Never say never.

We set resolutions such as, “I am giving up chocolate,” or “I’m never shopping again.” These statements all start from focusing on the negative of one’s behavior rather than the positive behavior that one hopes to create.

Furthermore, when we make declarations and commitments like “never” or “forever,” we are more likely to fall short of our goals and expectations. This leaves no room for balance and flexibility.

Giving up the things we love and enjoy is punishment. Why give up entirely the things we enjoy and bring us pleasure if it’s not harmful to others or ourselves?

I eat a small portion of chocolate almost every day. Chocolate delights me and I deserve to be delighted. Giving it up entirely will feel like punishing myself. Having a small portion and a balanced diet and exercise allows me to enjoy it guilt-free.

8. Meditate and visualize.

For nearly a year, I mediated and visualized myself living by the ocean. I went to sleep with the sounds of the ocean and created a vision board with images of the sea. With consistent focus on my intentions and desires, and taking actionable steps toward my goals, I am now living part-time on a beautiful island .

When we keep our intentions as our focus and take action from a place of gratitude, we open ourselves up to the people and opportunities to bring us to the change and intentions we desire.

And lastly, believe in possibilities. Belief alone doesn’t make things happen, but magic unfolds in our lives when we believe in a possibility and work toward it.

Wishing you much success for a happy, healthy, and prosperous transformation in the New Year!

New Year’s Resolutions image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Angela Holton

About Angela Holton

Angela N. Holton is a Life Coach, Workshop Teacher, Speaker, Best Selling Co-Author of “Whispers of the Heart,” and founder of Love Sanctuary, an inspirational platform committed to sharing positive and powerful messages on love, growth, and healing. Angela’s mission through Love Sanctuary is to teach and inspire radical self-love, and the keys to living healthier, happier, and more purposeful lives.

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  • Love Sanctuary

    Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed reading my article and that it inspired you. We’re all in this together, working to change and improve our lives. Wishing you much success in the New Year.

  • gabriella

    Awesome article. I loved all your ideas! Thank you for writing it, and Happy New Year!

  • Tir

    Thank you. This really made me think about goal setting and changing my perception. I hope you will write more articles in the future.

  • Love Sanctuary

    Thank you Tir! Happy New Year! I hope to write many more articles for Tiny Buddha in the future. Thank you for the support.

  • Love Sanctuary

    Happy New Year Gabriella and thank you taking the time to read my article. I am grateful you enjoyed it and hope it inspired. Best in 2016!

  • Jean-Paul Blommaert

    Transformation is a ungoing lifetime commitment. Totally agree with this article! Thank you 🙂

  • Ayush Bahuguna

    I think an important thing that we all forget is that we have to force ourselves to do it. A lot of people work according to their feelings. Not everyone feels like waking up at 3 am in the morning. Not everyone feels like keeping abstinence from sweets.

    Force is an important point that we should consider. Knowing why we are doing something and forcing ourselves to do it can help us keeping up with our new year’s resolution.

  • Thank you for sharing your beliefs. It was very useful for me and I will do my best to put your advices on practice!

  • I agree, Many people make resolutions, but less than 30% get it done. It’s goood to see the importance of practicing the mind because weak mind wont keep any promise.

  • Love Sanctuary

    Thank you Penryl. Yes, like everything else it starts with a mindset. Once we influence and shape our minds, then we can change the things outside of us. Thank you for reading.

  • Love Sanctuary

    You’re so welcome! Thanks for stopping by and reading. Happy New Year!

  • Love Sanctuary

    Awesome Sara! Thanks for stopping by! Good luck and do your best with your practices in 2016! It’s all about practice.

  • Love Sanctuary

    Thank you Ayush. I believe “force” tends to imply sort of an aggressive action perhaps. But, in my opinion, I don’t think it’s so much about “forcing” ourselves as it is constantly seeking for inspiration and motivation. The more results we achieve the more motivated we feel. I believe the words and verbiage we use are equally important and we won’t really engage in actions if we’re feeling “forced” to do it. Looking for inspiration is paramount to creating change.

  • Ayush Bahuguna

    I am sorry. I couldn’t make myself clear. What I meant by forcing was let’s say, you want to wake up early in the morning, so you set the alarm and it goes off in the morning, but you can’t because you don’t FEEL like. So you have to force yourself through those feelings. I am sorry, I should have given an example.

  • Love Sanctuary

    Thank you Ayush. I understand your example. Maybe we can replace the word “force” with “motivate” or “push through”. When we “force” anything it implies resistance to it and when we change our language it can influence our thoughts and feelings about it. I hope that makes sense. This is only my suggestion. All the best.

  • George Archibong

    I feel so inspired. Wow wow. Amazing piece