Resolutions and the New Year
I know that at some point in our lives we’ve all made the decision to create a list of New Year’s resolutions. Right? Every year as we approached the ending of one year and before the start of the next my parents would sit around and talk about their New Year’s resolutions. It always seemed like these resolutions were about changing the things they disliked about themselves or their life.
Did you know that the top three resolutions for 2018 were: eat healthier, get more exercise, and save more money. Noble resolutions I must say.
So what exactly is a resolution anyway and why can they be a challenge to keep? A resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. It’s a great way to consciously think about what you want and don’t want in your life. Like an inventory.
Resolutions are notoriously hard to keep past the first two to three weeks of January, let alone the entire month! You know what I mean, I know you do. If weight loss is your resolution then you commit to healthier eating, you sign yourself up at the gym, you find new recipes, you source and buy new ingredients. You EVEN go out and get yourself those fancy meal prep containers! (Guilty, so guilty of this one.) And by mid-January you find yourself in the kitchen at midnight snarfing down a PB&J and feeling relieved. (And maybe I’m guilty of this one, too. Maybe not.)
The Science of Resolutions
Science says that it’s because we as humans can’t sustain a high level of performance indefinitely. So take for example when it’s time for midterms or finals. You study hard, you worry, you’re totally fired up and ready to go. On exam day you drag yourself in to the class room and sit the exam in a flurry of anxiety. By the end you’re dragging with exhaustion. Cognitive exhaustion that is.
It’s actually the same for making healthy changes in your life. Take the weight loss example from above. You make all these changes and after three weeks the changes are chafing. For some it feels like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. (Pun not intended.) This is cognitive exhaustion. You made too many big changes too fast!
At this point in the game you are faced with a choice. Power on, alter your course, or quit entirely.
Man, I see why we wait until the New Year. The promise of new beginnings lures us in to thinking that we can take on this monumental task of change. But seriously, why not make small changes throughout the year? Why not cut out bread one month, drink more water the next, walk more the next, and increase sleep another month? Well, because we are totally pumped for the ending of one year and the start of another. You’re riding the wave of new beginnings and think you can take on the world.
Do yourself a huge favor and take some baby steps my friend. Create a realistic plan, set bite size goals, and get buy in from those around you, and make the changes throughout the whole year. This is a marathon, not a sprint!
So how does this apply to relationships? Thanks for asking!
Creating Relationship Resolutions
Instead of trying to change all of the things that you don’t like about your relationship, try changing your perspective. Instead of putting so much energy in to changing what you don’t like how about increasing the things you do like?
It’s harder to stop eating chocolate, drinking soda, and binge watching Netflix than it is to simply walk more, increase water intake, and eat more veggies. See the difference? Add healthier things instead of removing or changing unhealthy things.
Within your relationships, instead of focusing on the negative you want to change, just increase the positive and watch a lot of the negative simply fall away. (This does not apply to toxic or abusive behaviors or relationships. Read more about that here and here.)
So instead of sitting here and creating resolutions like, I want a better relationship, I want to feel more connected, I want to argue less… These resolutions, by the way, are quite large and harder to tackle than you think… Instead, create bite size positive behavior changes.
I can hear you asking me, “Like what?”
Remember how just a bit ago I said, create a realistic plan, set bite size goals, get buy in from those around you, and make the changes throughout the whole year? Ok…
Make Goals, Not Resolutions
Step One: Ask your partner if they are up for making some small changes to your relationship that will have huge impact. How you do this is important. Don’t ask in the middle of an argument and don’t offer this as an ultimatum. This needs to be a positive aspect of your continued partnership.
Step Two: Figure out what you each want more of. Keep it positive focused. Maybe it’s speaking each other’s love language, maybe it’s more connection. Consider creating a connection corner, a neutral location where you can frequently connect, identify what you’d like more of, and make your plans. This will come in handy later.
Step Three: Create a realistic plan complete with goals and how you’d like to get there. This does not need to be complicated. It could be something as simple as once per day we will offer gratitude and appreciation to my partner.
Step Four: Re-evaluate often, at least monthly. What’s working? What’s not working? What is routine and needs to be changed up? Remember that connection corner? This is where you’ll meet to have these intimate conversations.
So in reality, how does this look? Well, I’ve had several couples utilize this practice and they have found it rather helpful.
One of my couples meets each Friday evening in their back yard after a shared supper. Their first meeting they each identified that they would like more of their love language spoken, one would like their partner to acknowledge the effort they are putting in, the other requested more communication on a deep level. During their second meeting they were able to flesh out how they wanted this to look on a deeper level. A week later they checked in with each other to see what was working. They made adjustments. This process continued with continued evaluations, additions of actions, subtractions of things that weren’t working.
By the end of the first month their connection exponentially increased and the meetings evolved in to a ritual of connection, emotional intimacy, and trust building for them both.
Small Actions Bring About Big Changes
When you commit to this process and these small changes and stick with it you create an environment of positivity in your relationship. This fosters communication, connection, emotional intimacy. Over a short period of time it can drown out any negativity, change any negative or disagreeable behaviors, and reconnect you both.
Each couple will be different, each process a little different, the results will be different based on buy in. Regardless, changes will happen and the relationship will become more deeply intimate.
Just remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Making changes throughout the year avoids cognitive exhaustion and anchors in all the changes you’re making much more slowly.
JoyWork Suggestion: Create a list of small positive changes you’d like to incorporate in your relationship resolution plan and then put it in to action.
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