It’s inevitable. Most people will start the New Year with a desire to start things off on the right foot – to lose that weight, start that business, or pursue their dream. So why do so many resolutions slow down and sputter out long before the end of the year? It’s related to a phenomenon often seen in athletes.
I’ll be watching the finals in an athletic competition, and there will always be that one athlete who, on the brink of getting a medal, will suddenly stumble (literally and figuratively). In their tearful post-interview, they’ll say something along the lines of “I don’t know what happened. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Or a player in a professional team sport will get a lucrative contract extension after an amazing season. Not long after, the player suddenly experiences an unproductive streak and gets absolutely no goals/touchdowns/baskets etc. The harder he tries, the worse his performance seems to get. “He doesn’t deserve his new 10 trillion dollar contract!” washed-up-athletes-turned-hosts will predictably complain on a sports newscast. “Now that he’s got his money, he doesn’t care!” I, in turn, will yell back, “You don’t get it! It’s self-sabotage! It’s a psychological thing!” And naturally, whoever happens to be in the room with me will gently say, “Honey, they can’t hear you. It’s a TV.”
The point is, when you consistently find yourself falling just short of success, you need to take a moment to stop and reflect. Maybe it’s nerves. A streak of bad luck that keeps coming back. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a deeply ingrained tendency to sabotage yourself. And these may be the reasons why:
- Avoiding jealousy. You would hate for others, like friends, family, or colleagues to be jealous of your success. You don’t want to stand out as a result of your accomplishments, so you avoid talking about your successes, downplay your achievements, or just don’t try hard. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be proud of your accomplishments! Enjoy your achievements (without rubbing it in anyone’s face). If anything, some people will use your success to inspire them to pursue their own goals. As for those who become envious and want to hold you down, let them be – it is their issue, not yours. Those who genuinely care about you will support you wholeheartedly.
- Aiming low … or not aiming at all. You don’t set the bar high for yourself and don’t set regular goals for yourself. The disappointment of attaining an easy goal is less demoralizing than totally failing to achieve a more challenging objective. However, there is something even more dispiriting: The feeling of being stuck in an unproductive rut. Make it a point to set goals for yourself. They don’t have to be extremely difficult feats – just enough to give you a decent challenge, and put a deadline on it. That room that you’ve wanted to organize for years? Start by cleaning one shelf or drawer per day for the next two weeks. Those art classes you’ve been considering? Get yourself signed up for the next available session. That extra weight you’d like to lose? How about starting with the first 5 pounds in the next two months?
- Avoiding the pressure that comes with success. You’re worried that being successful implies a heavier load of responsibility and pressure that you just don’t want to shoulder (or are afraid you won’t be able to carry). It’s like the person who battles to get a promotion, only to realize how much extra work and effort is required once he or she gets the position. Some call it laziness…I call it short-sightedness. Know what you want, and know what you are getting into; then go for it with confidence and resolve.
- All or nothing thinking. You don’t celebrate small successes - it’s either “go big or go home.” This happens a lot with people who are on a weight loss journey. Rather than celebrating that half-pound or one-pound loss and recognizing that sometimes, they won’t lose weight as their body adjusts and builds muscle, they suddenly declare their efforts are worthless and give up. Strive to set challenging yet reasonable goals for yourself. Think "SMART". A goal should be:
- Measurable: Being able to track your progress at set intervals (every month, for example) is important - you'll see and appreciate the efforts of your labors. A monthly weight loss check can be number of inches lost, or amount of steps you can now climb.
- Attainable: This is the key to success. Goals that are too easy won't motivate you; those that are too hard will discourage you and are more likely to be left unfinished. Set a goal that is high, but reasonable. So in terms of a weight loss,
- Specific: Rather than simply stating "I want to lose weight", have a number in mind, like "lose 40 lbs".
- for example, don't aim for "30 lbs in 30 days.”
- Realistic: Why do you have this particular ambition? Why do you want to achieve it? You'll be much more motivated to achieve something that means something to you. For example: "I want to lose weight so that I feel better about myself...so that I can keep up with my children/grand children...so that I can run in a charity marathon,” etc.
- Time-based: Set a flexible, realistic deadline. This will keep your eyes on the prize. Setting a goal to be achieved at some vague time in the future is not going to stick. That being said, be willing to tweak your deadline if unexpected situations arise (for e.g. you're on track with your weight loss goal, but injure yourself and need to take a break.). A realistic weight loss deadline could be 40 lbs in 1 year.
- Fear of failure. You see failure as shameful defeat rather than as an important lesson to be learned. Maybe the tendency to hate failure was instilled in us during school; after all, whenever we failed a test, teachers just had to advertise it with a big, red F. The truth is, failure is just another way of saying, “The way you approached this didn’t work. try harder harder, adjust your approach,or try a different approach.” The best part about failing is that you’ll be able to determine exactly what went wrong and how you can prevent it from happening again in the future. When an Olympic athlete fails to win a medal, she doesn’t grab her running shoes and say, “Forget this! I’m going home.” She reviews videos of her performance to determine exactly where she can improve.
- Fear of stepping outside your comfort zone. You back away from challenges that are not a guaranteed success or have allowed self-doubt to dictate your decisions. Anytime you find yourself shying away from challenges that push you outside your comfort zone, remember this: As an infant, the fact that taking your first steps would be a challenge likely never crossed your mind. All you had was an inherent knowing that you just had to keep picking yourself up and try again. Without that inherent desire to keep trying and to keep pushing your limits, you’d still be crawling to this day. Challenges are meant to push you. Failing and making mistakes is just part of the process.
- Giving up too easily. If you cruised through life without any difficulties and always got whatever you wanted, I guarantee you would not be content. Deep down, we hunger for challenge; otherwise, we’d become terribly bored. So if your weight loss journey isn’t going as smoothly as you hoped it would, or your pet project just hasn’t gotten off the ground yet, don’t throw in the towel. Keep trying and something will give. That, I also guarantee.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan.Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.
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