New Year’s Resolutions – dealing with Lapse

New Year’s Resolutions – dealing with Lapse

We’re now half way through January. It can be a challenging month for many reasons – hangovers, leftovers and ‘the party’s over’, both literal and metaphorical; yet all too often we can make it more difficult for ourselves.

In my work with clients and groups, a very common theme is New Year resolutions. Listening to the language, I also hear about guilt, resolve, intentions, and fear of failure. “I’ve stopped drinking as I overdid it. I’m dreading the weekend…” “I’m trying to cut down on eating meat, and this seems like the right time to go meat-free for a month.” “I tried this last year, and it worked for ten days then went wrong because…”

Most of us like a fresh start, and to be in the company of others who are also trying to change a behaviour. This is why the whole January phenomenon of resolutions seems to me to be a good thing. However, the way it is framed in our heads is often unhelpful. In Motivational Interviewing, loving kindness is not just from the practitioner to the client, but is a value that underpins everything, including loving kindness towards ourselves. The language of guilt and failure is understandable, but can get in the way of long term change.

The beginning of the year can be difficult enough for many reasons without the added burden of yet another challenge. Helping us understand why we want to do something different, and what the value is that drives this, can be useful. For example, we may feel we ought to change diet or drinking behaviour, but only
when we work out that we want something different for ourselves are we likely to experience real change. “I’m going to cut down on my drinking because I want to be healthier (a value) and not feel so hungover (a benefit)”

While it may feel like a fresh start, which is good because it brings a sense of new possibilities and hope, in fact the likelihood is we’ve tried something like this before. All the wisdom, learning, discovery is there for us if we can spend less energy ‘beating ourselves up about failure’ and more kindness towards ourselves
and efforts. Behaviour change is a process that ebbs and flows, comes and goes. January represents a staging post, where we re-engage with what is important in the overall scheme of things. So if we’re trying to lose some weight, and the last few weeks have involved extra eating, that may have been part of celebration and relaxing, which is part of our learning as to what happens from time to time. How do we manage this without feeling guilty? Setbacks within January are likely too, and are part of the whole process. These are opportunities for learning and discovering about ourselves, the triggers to setbacks and so on.

But most importantly, January is a month where we need encouragement above all else. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that when I begin to change my behaviours, there is always some success in there. So let’s say we intended to give up alcohol in January, the second weekend involves two parties and my resolve crumbles.
Most would use terms as ‘it went wrong’, ‘I tried it and it didn’t work’ OR ‘there were 14 days of success’ and a crucial bit of learning, not least to ‘love myself’ in all the realities of my life which gives me the strength to get back and build on the success rather than be too caught up with the blip/setback/lapse.

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Fantastic course [Motivational Interviewing]! Totally relevant, understandable, practical and interesting. I look forward to using the skills and tools I learned. I was particularly impressed with Alasdair Cant. He is a brilliant trainer, knowledgeable, patient, engaging and clearly skilled at facilitating groups ensuring fun and learning.

Youth Justice Worker