Beginning Again

Fortifying Resolutions with Compassion and Courage

The ringing in of the new year inspires many people to make resolutions that involve trying on new behaviors or ending old ones. Typical resolutions include adding or increasing exercise, vowing to lose weight or swearing off certain foods or activities. Research shows that people tend to be successful with intended resolutions for the month of January, only to lose steam by February. By April, many have forgotten the vows that they made to themselves as they welcomed in a new year.

Barriers to achieving goals come in varied shapes, sizes and names. Similar to unexpected surprises in a video game or false exits in a labyrinth, these barriers can halt a person’s momentum temporarily or permanently, despite dedication and determination. The truth is, change is hard. Whether the goal is to spend more time at the gym, be more involved in creative endeavors or respond to emails in a timelier manner, different kinds of change are hard for different kinds of people for different reasons.

According to research conducted by Dr. Robert Kegan and Dr. Lisa Lahey of Harvard University, when heart patients that were being studied were informed that death was imminent without specific changes in behavior, only one in seven patients actually made the prescribed changes. This study illustrates how truly challenging certain changes can be, even when the motivation is literally life or death.

Change requires clarity, awareness and the commitment to begin again when good intentions fail. Perhaps the most important component of lasting change is self-compassion on the journey. Like a child who falls down and gets back up when learning to walk or ride a bike, adults must adopt a similar sense of resilient determination, along with a healthy dose of cheerleading and care for the self when aiming for change. Holding an “all or nothing” mind-set when it comes to modifying behavior is likely to bring about discouragement and failure.

Here are some ways to stay on track, and begin again, with resolutions:

1. Imagine what you might say to a child, a loved one, or best friend who was struggling to stay on a goal path; chances are you might be more compassionate and encouraging with them than you tend to be with yourself.

2. Practice mantras or say or post affirmations that provide encouragement. Simple phrases like “Correct and continue” or “I shall begin, again!” can be supportive.

3. Create an artistic representation containing symbols, photos, encouraging words or phrases that remind you of your true desire to stay the course and offer compassion when you may falter.

4. Find a partner and agree to remind each other that “Beginning Again” is an option and that it’s possible to pause, correct and continue on the desired path without giving up.

Willingness to correct course and continue on the spot, every day if necessary and helpful, allows beginnings to happen any time of year. It also puts the concept of beginnings into everyday life, not just in the context of a once-a-year calendar event.

Leigh Doherty, MA, GCEC, is a certified professional coach and co-founder of Designed Alliance, a coaching partnership that works with clients locally, nationally and internationally. For more information, visit, email or call 617-764-5268.

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