Family affair

A family affair: why resolutions are prone to failure

Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and professor at the University of Iowa. He co-hosts the attached podcast. (Jacob Priest)

I know I’m a little late writing about this, but this column is about New Year’s resolutions.

I guess if you made any resolutions on January 1, you’ve probably already made a mistake. Or maybe you’ve lost some motivation. You may even have blamed yourself for not being able to keep up. For most of us, making resolutions doesn’t bring much change.

As a therapist, most people think my work is about change. People come to me with a problem, and they want that problem to go away. If they see the problem in their spouse, they want their spouse to change (or in some cases leave). If they see the problem with their child, they want their child to change. If they see the problem in themselves, they want to change.

When they come to therapy, they see change happening much like New Years resolutions. They will set a goal, have laser focus and sustained motivation to achieve that goal, and then the change they want will happen. product.

I don’t blame my clients for thinking that way. If you spend time on social media or reading self-help books, you’ll see plenty of people showing how much their dedication has paid off. They can post lots of gym selfies or TikTok videos that show off their hard work. They may provide platitudes that motivate them, or they may even share tricks that have helped them get up consistently at 4 a.m. They can talk about ideas that will totally transform your life and your relationships.

To me, these ideas aren’t really about change, they’re just ways to sell more books, get more subscribers, or line the pockets of gym owners. This approach to change will leave most of us disappointed.

Why? Because life is too unpredictable. Setting a goal for a future date assumes that our life will be the same as today. And that’s rarely the case.

Instead of changing, I want the people I work with in therapy to focus on adaptability. If you have a fixed goal, it’s hard to adapt. If you are adaptable, you allow life and its myriad of experiences to help you grow – instead of fighting against it.

If you’ve resolved to exercise more, instead of sticking to one routine. Explore options, find ways to incorporate exercise into what you already do. And when you don’t feel like exercising, listen to yourself. Allowing yourself to rest is the key to change.

If you’ve made a resolution to improve your marriage by going on a weekly date, you may soon find that routine doesn’t work or gets old. Instead, try something different or something small. Find ways to use routines and structures already in place to connect more with your partner. When these structures or routines change, adapt how you prioritize your relationship. And just like exercise, our relationships sometimes need rest. Instead of trying to fix it, sometimes you just need to enjoy it for what it is right now.

In my experience, those who adapt get much more out of their lives and relationships than those who focus on a specific outcome.

Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and professor at the University of Iowa. He co-hosts the attached podcast. Comments: [email protected]