According to research, about 88% of us have already failed to live up to our New Year’s resolutions.
If you’re feeling called out by that statistic, or if you’re finding yourself disappointed with yourself in the month of January, let me say that all the “new year, new you“ stuff and new decade messaging that we received this year was kind of intense.
Today I want to address how to recover from those missteps on our high, lofty, and audacious goals because failure on the road to success is inevitable. It is our job to think through and really be strategic about how we can recover when we’re feeling stuck in a motivational slump.
Guilt vs. Shame
First, let’s break down the difference between guilt and shame because you may be feeling some delightful cocktail of both right now if you haven’t lived up to 100% of your aspirations this month. But they’re very different in how they set you up to move forward.
There’s guilt, which is that feeling of… I did something bad. The guilt component is attached to the action not to the actor – not to you.
Shame, on the other hand, sounds like… I am such a bad person. A lot of times our inner monologue is not very kind when we are in the heat of failure.
Here’s why that difference is key. When we externalized our failures as an action that we did or did not do, we failed to do, or something we did that we are not proud of, it gives us the potential for improvement. We retain our identity as someone who can act better. When you act poorly, it doesn’t mean you will always as poorly.
When you act poorly and you externalized the bad feeling as part of this action that you took, it still retains the possibility and the hope for the future that you can make better choices and take different actions.
When you’re feeling shame, which is more often verbalized like: I’m just never gonna be a fit person, I’m just not an exercise-oriented person, I’m just a lazy person.
That fixed trait mindset makes us feel like we’re predestined to be a failure. When we feel shame, there’s no room for hope. So it’s really important that when you hear shame coming up for you, take a moment to breathe, acknowledge that thought, and change it to guilt – because that is more productive, frankly. Attach the negative emotion to the action, not who you are.
These are both de-motivating feelings. Guilt and shame will really suck air out of the room in terms of your motivation to move forward on your goals, but guilt is what we are aiming for when shame is what we are feeling, and it can be done.
Change the narrative
So how can we do this? How can you shift your mindset from shame to guilt?
Brené Brown talks a lot about this in her book, Dare to Lead, where she shares how she and her team use the strategy known as “The story I’m telling myself…”
The idea behind this strategy is that when you’re feeling guilt or shame, there’s usually a narrative behind it.
Finish the sentence, “The story I’m telling myself is…”
…I’m just an unreliable, unprofessional person and it makes me feel like a total fraud.
…Who am I to be doing what I’m doing? Maybe I’m totally unqualified.
It’s hard to unpack our guilt and shame until you unpack the story behind it. You can literally challenge yourself to just finish the sentence: ‘The story I’m telling myself is ________,’ and then write it down and look at it. Do you see any evidence to back this up?
When you look at the irrational fears, anxieties, and negative stories that belie our guilt and shame, there’s not a lot of evidence to back those things up. It’s just our anxiety, fear, guilt, and shame running a muck to set off all the internal alarm bells in our system for us to take action.
Writing out your narrative can help you rewrite it and say, Okay, what’s the real story here? The real story is: I’m not perfect – nobody is.
When we remind ourselves of our humanity, we can bring a little more self-love to the conversation – whether it’s the one we’re having out loud or the one we’re having in our head. So, unpack the narrative by sharing the story behind the negative emotion that you’re feeling right now.
Embrace the Progress Principle
The third aspect of how we can get unstuck when we feel like our New Year’s resolutions have failed already is to embrace what’s known as the progress principle. This concept, in psychology, says the mere sensation of forward momentum is inherently motivating.
It’s why I always share that when I make it to list, sometimes I will sit down and write at the top of that to-do list, Make to-do list, and then I will check it off. It’s silly, right? It’s totally ridiculous, but taking stock of forward movement – making progress no matter how small, gives you a little boost of motivational reserves. It gives you a little energy spike to say, “Okay, step one: done. What’s next?”
It can get you back on track faster. So if you’re thinking, “Oh my goodness, my New Year’s resolutions were so lofty. There were so many of them!” I want you to look at what you had initially intended to do and make one teeny tiny goal for yourself in the direction of those larger endeavors, and do one thing today.
Do one thing today, that’s one tiny step. Send that email asking that person out for coffee, schedule that appointment with your dentist, or your psychotherapist, or your mom, or whoever. Do one thing today that gets you back on track because when you break it down into teeny, tiny action steps and set a realistic sub-goal, the achievement of that tiny step will boost your motivation and get you back on track faster.
If you are among the 88% of us who feel like we have already broken our New Year’s resolutions, let me remind you there’s still hope. There are still 11 months left in this year. We are just getting started. So do not allow an early misstep to lower your expectations for yourself all year long.
We can get back on track. We can clarify what we’re aiming towards, and we can take tiny steps together as a community.
Want to join our community of accountability?
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Aim for progress, not perfection
If you found today’s post helpful, share it with the folks in your world who could use it. I think a lot of us are feeling like we did not get everything done that we intended to get done this month, and that’s okay. I am here to say We are aiming for progress, not perfection.
This article first appeared on BossedUp.