ResolutionsToday I made the decision to face my last demon or at least I think it is my last demon. It is Dec 27th and there is no particular reason I chose this day. It does not matter what this demon is, as a demon is a demon and whatever yours may be, sooner or later, it has to be faced. Generally, many of us do this at the dawn of the New Year as a resolution as if a new year will somehow make us feel differently and less attached to our demon. All a new year ever makes me feel is old. Thinking of this as a time for a resolution may put too positive a spin on what needs to be accomplished. When it comes to exorcising your demons, you may not be resolute at all. Let’s face it – most of us make resolutions because we feel we should, not because we truly want to.

There is logic in the idea that a new year should bring new beginnings, so it isn’t surprising that those wishing to make life changes think that this is the time to do so.  But is change accomplished simply by setting a date? Apparently not, as any fitness expert will tell you. Every January, the gym becomes overcrowded with newly-determined fitness fanatics that disappear by Valentine’s Day.

A University of Hertfordshire study followed 2,000 people who made a two-week resolution and found that those who relied solely on their own willpower, failed even before the halfway mark. Only 30 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men made it to the halfway point (one week) and by the end of two weeks 78 per cent had failed.

Of those who stuck to their declaration for the full two weeks, only 26 per cent did so using willpower alone. The rest used techniques such as visualization – imagining what their life would be like having achieved their goal, or relying on the support of friends and family. Those who discussed their plans were far more likely to succeed. While sticking to your resolutions may seem pointless, there are some benefits. Research shows that people who make resolutions are ten times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t make any.

Having wrestled a few demons in my life, successfully, I might add, I have learned a couple of things. First, none of them occurred with a start date like January 1st. Second, I set the intention to make the change long before I actually made the change and I waited for a time to appear when I thought it would fit into my life. That is right. I did not set out to find a date. I let the date find me.  Timing, as they say, is everything.

What is your demon? Smoking? Excess weight? Too little exercise? Too much caffeine? Too much sitting on the couch? Too many opinions or judgments? Maybe you are addicted to painkillers. Whatever it is, you currently do what you do for a reason. Even if the choice makes your feel poorly physically or just makes you feel bad about yourself, you still probably do it because you get some benefit or perceived benefit from it – there is a payoff. What is it? If you can identify what it is, then you can make plans to replace that benefit with something else as beneficial. As my niece said recently she drinks coffee because she gets a headache if she doesn’t. We all know that it is the coffee withdrawal that causes headache – even she does- but she is not prepared to deal with the time it takes for the headache to go away. We are all like that – we want to blink our eyes twice and be free of our demon. Unfortunately, it does not work that way.

There are two criteria that must be present in order to prepare for the change in behavior.

  1. You have to be prepared for the fact that you will not be feeling great – physically or mentally for a period of time and learn to live with that – if you can handle what you feeling then you can wait it out until you feel normal again. If you have tried before and failed, then you know what I mean.
  2. You have to have a new habit lined up. For example, if you use food to help you cope with stress or to fight off boredom, then you need to find a new coping technique or start doing something new to occupy yourself – a new guilty pleasure to pamper yourself – like a whirlpool bath with bubbles or reading a book you do not have time to read (that is where the guilt come in). This is an individual thing and only you can decide what gives you pleasure.

You can start the new activity before you quit the old one. That way you already know if the new behavior helps. If it is physical addiction, you can try new foods or supplements that may help replenish the body of nutrients that the addiction is depleting, to see if that helps withdrawal. If you feel the need to smoke less or drink coffee less, then you know that the new behavior or products will help during the rough times.

The problem with fighting with any of these demons is that once you give them up, you will have to go through a period of time where you feel the urge to give in. But when you do, ask yourself – do I really feel that bad?  Can I wait this out? If you can do that, you are prepared to let go of the demon.

So when do you choose to exorcise your demon? Give these suggestions some thought, make a commitment to the goal and wait for the right moment to start. This happened to me today. I do not know why but I have been waiting for a day when I felt rested, relaxed and ready and so far so good. I could have waited until Jan 1 but it seemed silly – why – what is wrong with today? I have 10 days to do as I please. I can control what I eat, when I sleep and what I do and the stress level is relatively low – what better time?  It may last or it may not –whatever the case it is better than doing nothing.

So if you have planned a resolution for Jan 1st, I do not want to discourage you but perhaps, should you fail, you should keep all this in mind and keep trying. As long as you have a clear destination, the bumps along the road do not mean you will never arrive. Here are two final tips in support of this.

Be flexible: A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that the more determined subjects were to execute a specific plan, the less likely they were to stick to it, as they often missed other opportunities that might help them accomplish their goals. In other words, think outside of the box.

Be prepared for a relapse: Just because you’ve fallen of the wagon does not mean that you should continue to sit on the ground. Get back up and try again. Do not use one slip up as an excuse to go back to the old habit. Instead, view it as part of the inevitable process – focus on what caused the relapse and change that circumstance to fit the new reality you want to achieve.

Whatever you choose to do: Best Wishes and Happy New Year!

  1. Norcross, J.C.; Mrykalo, M.S. & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.
  2. Janiszewski, Chris, Donald Lichtenstein, and Julia Belyavsky (2008), “Judgments about Judgments: The Dissociation of Consideration Price and Willingness to Purchase Judgments,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14 (June), 151-164.
  3. Belyavsky, Julia, Chris Janiszewski, and Robyn LeBoeuf (2010), “Letting Good Opportunities Pass Us By: Examining the Role of Mindset in Goal Pursuit,” Journal of Consumer Research, 37 December, 2010