Here’s A New Year’s Resolution: Just Keep Trying To Be Better
Like the traditions that surround many holidays, the concept of a New Year’s resolution has its roots in religious practices. For example, both the Babylonians and the Romans started their new year by making promises to their gods.
There are many parallels to other religious traditions, such as the Christian Lent, but in general, the concept is pretty much the the same – reflect on ways to improve oneself, and make goals to do so.
Making a promise to god is a bold act, to say the least. Some may feel it necessary, but many of us may be a bit leery of going quite that far. After all, that means that failure is not an option. And honestly, failure is a part of self-improvement. We can’t progress without trying, and we can’t continually progress without failure. They are both necessary components in a process that yields better people.
I can’t think of a better quote that sums this idea up better than this from Albert Einstein:
“I think and think for month and years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.”
People can make progress by trying and failing. That even includes addiction. What you have to be aware of is this – the downward spiral effect of failure. It’s natural and normal to become down on yourself and make more bad decisions in response to failure. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Like Einstein said, success comes in the midst of failure. Instead of viewing failure as negative, you need to instead consider what you accomplished. In other words, rather than “I was only clean for a day” you must think “I was clean for a whole day!”
I know this probably sounds cheesy and maybe a bit obvious, but it’s harder in practice than it is in theory. Much harder.
In a 2010 study, researchers found that “restrained eaters” (i.e. dieters) who were fed what they perceived as a large slice of pizza ate 50% more cookies afterwards than unrestrained eaters. This shows the extent of the emotional toll that “blowing it” can produce.
But you can resist the urge to dwell on it. In truth, regret doesn’t serve a whole of purpose in moving forward. Yes, sometimes we regret things we do and try not to replicate them, but regretting something is not the same as learning from one’s mistakes. Many people have a regret and still make the same error over and over again.
Conversely, a “mistake” can be viewed as a stepping stone to success or change. Moreover, Einstein didn’t really regret those 99 false conclusions. He just viewed them as a means to an end – a process that was inevitable if he were to ever find the answer.
And many studies have shown evidence that anxiety and fixation on failure impede performance – negative thoughts don’t help one bit. Indeed, it is this very effect that contributes to the emotional down slide we experience when we consider ourselves a failure.
In contrast, other studies have shown that a positive mindset enhances performance – on pretty much every level.
As someone who continues to try and fail, and sometimes succeed, my advice to you is this – whether it’s a substance abuse problem, or a dissatisfaction with lifestyle factors such as your job, your weight, or a relationship – don’t be so hard on yourself.
Set goals, makes plans, but don’t kick yourself in the tail when you make a mistake. If you do, it’s probably going to lead to more bad decisions. That’s just the way it is.
We all have the opportunity to be a little bit better – whatever that means. You know it, in your heart, what you want to change. And you know what an improvement feels like. Be your own judge and don’t let others tell you that you failed. Our individual attitudes and feelings are simply reflections on our personal perceptions of ourselves.
You can often decide for yourself how you are going to approach failure. You can internalize it – or you can re-frame it, and imagine it as something less important. Or at least, something that leads to a new opportunity – a step towards wherever you are going.
Finally, I would like to present the following example: In December of 2004, I was fired from a job I loved. I was very hard on myself for weeks about the mistakes that resulted in my dismissal.
During that time, I didn’t have insurance and I was on unemployment. I was 32 years old at the time. I had been on birth control for nearly half of my life. Due to my dwindling finances, I skipped a month. During that month, I got pregnant with my son, who is now 10 years old.
How could I possibly regret being fired? How could I possibly regret those mistakes? Before this occurred, I never planned on having children.
He exists only because of a very narrow window of opportunity. And he is, without a doubt, the greatest love of my life.
So remember, sometimes really awesome things can come out of “mistakes.” Sometimes we never know what we will truly regret until years later. It’s taking the steps that matter. Sometimes, one of those steps is just asking for help.
So my New Year’s resolution is to just…be better. To make improvements. To try and fail – and sometimes succeed. Can you manage that? I think you can.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology