A new year brings for 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 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 better introduce it into our lives. 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 that are tied closely to sobriety principles to be used all year long.
Getting to the Source
The first thing that’s important to know before making any kind of 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 to first 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 comes from within the individual while highly-controlled goals comes from someone else. It’s no surprise then that goals that an individual sets for themselves are going to be more successful. This is primarily the results 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 that are really coming from someone else. People often do these goals because they feel guilty or ashamed or anxious if they don’t do them. 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 very important to them. What’s being shown more and more consistently in resolutions literature is that goals that are 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.
This attitude also transcends to 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 don’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 also 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’s the Plan?
The second most important thing to getting to success is having 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 benefit of the latter 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 on 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 outthink yourself and not get it done.”
In the same way, if your goal is to get sober, you also need to make a plan. Maybe the first step in your plan is to go talk to a therapist or counselor who works with people 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. There you can hear about 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 times, finding a group of people with similar goals could be helpful in executing 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 a plan for execution is important for any goal in life, but it’s especially important 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.