I Broke My New Year's Resolutions, Now What?

By Olivia Pennelle 02/09/18

I used to get so disheartened when I didn’t achieve those goals, telling myself I was a failure, or that I was always destined to be fat or broke, that I had no semblance of control, and that no one wanted me.

Woman looking to the side, chin on hand.

Invariably, new year’s resolutions fail; they’re either too big, not specific enough, or we lack the real motivation to achieve them. As people in recovery, who rigorously critique our behavior, we tend to use this information as ammunition to either beat ourselves up or berate our egos. But what if we used this experience as information? What if we had a different approach and learned to treat ourselves with a little more kindness and compassion in 2018 instead? Changing our perception, and being more mindful, can help us develop a resilient approach to negative experiences in our recovery. With that new mindset, we can simply reframe the goal to something actionable and achievable and avoid all the self-criticism.

Even though I know most resolutions tend to fail, I am one of those people who likes to set new goals for the year ahead. As the new year approaches, I always feel a sense of promise and excitement by what the future may bring. I know it can sound silly to some—as it’s just another day in the calendar year—but to me those words new year mean something. After spending years just painfully existing in my substance use disorder, I’ve watched myself flourish during my recovery in ways I never thought possible. Seeing tangible evidence of what I'm capable of generates a sense of endless possibility for the future. That’s why I get excited.

That said, I used to set crazy goals, like lose 100 pounds in 12 months, or earn $100k—with no specific actionable goals. I used to get so disheartened when I didn’t achieve those goals, telling myself I was a failure, or that I was always destined to be fat or broke, that I had no semblance of control, and that no one wanted me. I’d use these perceived failures as an opportunity to assassinate myself, labeling all my defects of character including my lack of humility, huge ego, and unwillingness to rely on what my higher power would provide for me.

What nonsense.

The truth is, I was insane for the first year of my recovery from years of abusing my body and brain in active addiction. I had no idea how to be kind to myself, regulate my emotions, or cope with life. That took a little while to learn in recovery. I realized that I did have control, I had little ego to overcome—because I had zero self-esteem when I got into recovery—and I had the ability to empower myself to learn how to set achievable goals. It had nothing to do with humility and failure and all about using the information in a different way and changing my approach to goal-setting.

I learned that if it doesn’t follow the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timed) guidelines (or similar concept), it’s likely to be too vague and too unrealistic. Also, if you’re not emotionally connected with your goal, then it’s unlikely you’ll be motivated to achieve it. Telling someone you want to lose 100 pounds because your doctor told you to isn’t necessarily motivating enough to achieve it. Whereas wanting to lose 50 pounds, at a rate of 5 pounds per month, by eating a third less in meal portions and working out three times per week because you want to get strong and fit for your wedding next year, is both SMART and emotionally motivating. Big difference.

With that knowledge and new sense of empowerment, I now set myself challenges that are focused and specific. That said, the process to get there is the opposite of being specific. As a creative person, and with the knowledge of what I’ve achieved so far, I love to dream really big. I put no limits on the possibility of new adventures. I get curious about what excites me and I give myself permission to explore what gives me a sense of joy and anticipation. In my experience, being too specific initially feels militant and restricts the creative process. You may very well have the opposite experience. You must do what feels right for you.

It is only once I have a big picture idea that I can formulate SMART goals into small actionable steps. I then take them and break them down into monthly and weekly goals. I even have a project board for the larger goals with three columns: project tasks to be completed, current tasks, and completed tasks. I use a Freedom Planner and a Passion Planner to help me break down goals and get specific. They’re super helpful.

What’s key is to regularly review your goals and consider where you’re at. If you didn’t achieve the goal, know that this it isn’t a reflection on your ability, rather it is simply too big. Use this information as an opportunity to refine the goal, scale it down and break it into more manageable steps. Here are some examples:

I failed at eating entirely vegan during January.

Instead: What about eating vegan meals on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings in February by menu planning and buying the ingredients each Saturday to prepare for the week ahead?

I didn’t lose 15 pounds in January.

Instead: I will lose five pounds in February by eating three whole food meals with one snack every day, Monday through Saturday. I will plan these meals each week, buy the food on Saturday and prepare some meals on Sunday to ensure I have the food ready to go and I’m not tempted to deviate from my plan. I’ll also exercise three times per week at the gym, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, pack my clothes the night before, and I’ll block this time out in my planner.

I only went to CrossFit four times when I wanted to go every day.

Instead: I will go to the gym/or stay at CrossFit but reframe the goal to a more realistic and achievable one. Such as: I will go to CrossFit twice per week, on Monday and Friday, and go to my favorite yoga class on a Wednesday. I’ll pack my gym back the night before and take a snack with me so that I am energized and ready to go.

It is entirely possible to use goal results as information to just regroup and reframe the goal. It’s that simple. It is no reflection on your worth as a human, your ability to achieve, or any character defects. Let 2018 be more about being kinder and more compassionate to yourself and less about self-criticism.

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Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and coach. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and addiction recovery websites, including Recovery.org, Workit Health, Ravishly, Recovery Campus, and The Recovery Village. Liv was recently featured in VICE. Find Liv on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Liv also co-hosts a podcast — Breaking Free: Your Recovery. Your Way. Listen here.