A new year brings everyone a sense of change. For many, it is a perfect time to turn a new page in their lives and solidify some perpetual goals into official resolutions. For whatever reason, cementing these self-promises as the midnight ball drops adds an extra ounce of determination and a sense of commitment.
At least until the first month.
Despite all the gusto that goes into making a resolution on January 1st, research shows that half the people who make a New Year’s resolution will give it up after the first 30 days. A lot of this is, in fact, due to how we mentally approach resolutions. By starting your desired habit before the new year, you'll get a chance to learn how to introduce it into your life better. You'll find out what strategy works for you during the toughest situations (for some, these are the holidays) and what doesn't work — all before the new year rolls around.
We spoke with Dr. David Sack of Promises Malibu on how we can better position ourselves for success when it comes to our end-of-the-year resolutions. What came out of our conversation are actually tips tied closely to sobriety principles to be used all year long.
Evaluating Your New Year's Resolution: Are You Doing it for You?
The first thing that’s important to know before making any resolution is where your goal is actually coming from. As Dr. Sack puts it, “I think very often people write down a resolution, but they don’t really ask themselves how important is this to me and what would be different this time than every year.” The key to finding the answers is first to evaluate the goal.
For the most part, goals can be put into two categories: internally-motivated and highly-controlled. Internally-motivated goals are autonomous and come from within the individual, while highly-controlled goals come from someone else. It’s no surprise then that the goals that individuals set for themselves will be more successful. This is primarily the result of the individual finding the goal to be very important or enjoyable to achieve. Dr. Sack describes the relationship between the individual and the internally-motivated goals as one that “a person has chosen them for themselves and they’re either going to be pleasurable and satisfying inherently, or the person thinks it’s really important to their lives.”
In contrast, highly-controlled goals are ones that people will set for themselves but that are really coming from someone else. People often set these goals because they feel guilty or ashamed or anxious if they don’t. For instance, someone operating out of a highly-controlled goal may say, “I’m going to go and volunteer at the shelter because my sponsor will be mad at me if I don’t.” Ultimately, Dr. Sack says that these goals are less likely to be completed because people are doing it for the wrong reasons, and the goal isn’t essential to them. What’s being shown more and more consistently in resolutions literature is that goals set by the person themselves or that are part of things that they naturally enjoy are more likely to be completed than goals that aren’t.
Finding the Motivation to get Sober
This attitude also transcends the whole idea of recovery treatment. “The reason we have treatment centers,” Dr. Sack says, “is because there are a lot of people whose lives are in shambles from drug or alcohol use that doesn’t have the intrinsic motivation at the time that they get into trouble to start making changes in their lives.” Their intrinsic motivation is stripped away because of the drugs that have taken over their reward center and change the way they see the world and experience it. The goal of treatment then is to “help people find that intrinsic motivation to set that goal of sobriety so that it works for them.”
For someone to succeed in recovery, they have to see that being sober is better than not being sober. For some people, that motivation comes from being bottomed because they have no other choice. But for other people, it comes from realizing that where they are is bad enough.
What it Takes to Stick to Your Resolution This Year - An Implementation Plan
The second most important thing in getting to success has an implementation plan. That is, mapping out the steps that will help you get to your goal. Without it, Dr. Sack says it’s a lot like saying that your goal this year is to be a millionaire, but you don’t have any steps laid out. It’s very likely, then, that your goal isn’t going to be successful.
However, with an implementation plan, you’re much more likely to get started on your goal right away, as well as make it an automated process. The latter's benefit is so you don’t have to think about how you’re going to achieve your goal every time you act on it. This may be best illustrated by one of the most popular resolutions that people make in the new year: to lose weight.
Having your lunch planned out every day where you know what you’re going to eat and the number of calories in each meal will help remove the whole thinking process. This will then make the correct behaviors more automatic so that you’re not fighting with yourself all day long. Dr. Sack says, “It shortens the time to jump on the goal, and it also makes it a more automatic process so that you don’t out-think yourself and not get it done.”
Making a Resolution to Get Sober
Similarly, if your goal is to get sober, you also need to make a plan. Maybe the first step in your plan is to talk to a therapist or counselor who works with addiction and get some advice. Another thing you can do that doesn’t cost a lot of money is to start going to some meetings. You can hear what people say about alcohol and get an idea of what’s worked for them and what doesn’t work for them. “And so the person who starts by saying, ‘It’s October, I want to quit by January, and I’m going to have to do all these things’ is probably going to be more likely to succeed because they have an implementation intention and the person who’s partying on December 28th saying, ‘I’m quitting in three days.’ It’s just not going to happen.” The reason is that you have to have a plan.
Often, finding a group of people with similar goals could help execute the plan. Just keep in mind that different people quit in different ways, so the goal is to find an implementation plan that works for you. However, talking to others in similar situations can help give you ideas of what they are doing and what will work or not work for yourself.
Knowing the value behind any decision and making an execution plan is important for any goal in life, but it’s imperative if it’s a goal that you want to stick to all year long. Anything worthwhile in life takes work, so with the right amount of motivation and an action checklist to get going, you’ll already have a leg up on the new year before the clock strikes midnight.
Dr. David Sack is the Vice Chairman and Chief Medical Officer of Elements Behavioral Health and Promises Treatment Centers. He is board-certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, and addiction medicine and is a certified Medical Review Officer.