photo via creative commons
It’s the middle of January and about a quarter of us have already abandoned our New Year’s resolutions: Could you be one of them?
While almost half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only a tiny fraction of us—8 percent to be exact—actually achieve our goals, according to researchers at the University of Scranton.
What’s even more surprising is the rapidity with which we fall out. A 1989 study by John C. Norcross at the University of Scranton showed that 77 percent of resolvers had been able to keep their commitments for one week. A follow-up study in 2002 put the figure at 71 percent for one and two weeks. That means that a quarter of us can’t hang in for seven measly days.
Fortunately, the problem isn’t the resolutions per se. It’s us—more specifically our perfectionism. Our black-and-white way of thinking so frames our life that if we’re not succeeding every second, we’re failing. Perfectionism is the bane of the New Year’s resolution.
“High expectations are a double-edged sword,” says Mary Kennedy, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist with Associates in Health Psychology in North Wilmington. “On the one hand, they can lead to success and boost your self-esteem. On the other, they can lead to self-criticism and self-reproach when you feel you’ve failed.”
The fear of “not measuring up” can cause many of us to skip making any resolutions at all, passing up an opportunity for genuine growth and improvement. “Perfectionism can lead to procrastination and avoidance, which makes success even more elusive,” says Kennedy. “In many ways, perfectionists are their own worst enemy.”
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Kennedy recommends following some simple steps to help you maintain the resolve to achieve your goals.
1. Celebrate the small steps. Many of us see the New Year as an opportunity to attempt an extreme makeover, whether personal or professional. But shooting for the moon can be so psychologically daunting that you might crash and burn soon after lift-off. Setting smaller, measurable goals will allow you to see progress, which is always encouraging.
2. Take action. Plan your steps wisely and establish a time frame that allows you to carry out those steps. “Goals without action or a time limit are just dreams,” says Kennedy.
3. Give it time. It can take six weeks to establish a new habit, says Kennedy. So expect some slip-ups and hiccups in the early stages of your plan. If you expect this to be part of the process, you won’t view a setback as a reason to quit.
4. Make yourself accountable. All too often we remain isolated in our quest for self-improvement. Share your goals with friends and family to keep track of your progress and reinforce your commitment. Or partner with someone who is facing similar challenges for support and encouragement when you slip up.
5. Take yourself out of competition. Since the perfectionist mentality says—“I have to be perfect. I have to be the best”—remove yourself from people and situations that reinforce that idea. “The happiest people seem to be the ones in competition with just themselves,” says Kennedy.