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How to Get Around Barriers to Enacting New Year's Resolutions

January often feels like a fresh start and many people find it to be a good time to work on changing aspects of their lives. However, sometimes we can block ourselves from achieving our New Year's resolutions. When we do this, it can feel difficult to continue working on changes or setting goals at all.  Here are 5 psychological impediments to enacting resolutions with some ideas of how to get around these blocks and achieve the progress you are seeking.

1.     Perfectionistic/All-or-Nothing Thinking: believing that missteps are failures

What to do instead:

  • Celebrate any progress you make and know that slip-ups are part of starting a new behavior (they are not a sign that you are “lazy” or that setting goals doesn’t work). Starting new behaviors is hard! Give yourself credit by positively reinforcing yourself (which works better than negative reinforcement.)


  • Adapt your goals to be intentions instead. Example: instead of having the goal to not eat sugar, set the intention of eating foods that make you feel good.

2.     Self-invalidation: you are accustomed to ignoring what you need

How to combat this:

  • Make small, very approachable promises to yourself and meet those promises to build self-trust (which also validates your needs and wants.)

3.     Shaming self-talk: many people mistakenly think that shame is a good motivator

How to combat this:

  • Change the language you use from “should” or “ought to,” to “I’d like to” or “I’m choosing to” to increase your agency. And remember not doing your new behavior 100% of the time is part of the process. Instead, focus on the time that you do engage in the new behavior.

  • Research suggests that self-compassion is a much more effective motivator. Try using language that shows compassion for yourself rather than shame. Many people fear that self-compassion will lead to laziness or indulgence, but this has not been shown to be true in research.

4.     Triggers: past difficulties can create unhelpful cognitive patterns

What to do instead:

  • Make a pro and con list about changing this behavior to highlight why you are making this change.

  • Identify some potential barriers that you can anticipate and write a plan for what to do when each one comes up.

5.     Your “negative behaviors” served a purpose

Current “unwanted” habits may have helped to soothe or distract in the past. Consider what role this behavior played in your life in the past, and what role it currently plays to help you identify a new habit.

Example: if you find you find that after a stressful phone call (cue), you want to eat (craving), to get comfort (reward). Consider a new behavior to satisfy your craving for comfort. Remember that your body is accustomed to receiving the previous way of getting the reward so it will take some time to adjust.  

Photo by Thiago Matos

To enact positive reinforcement make sure to mindfully notice that you are engaging in a new, wanted behavior. Praise yourself! And remember that it takes time to adjust to new habits. A good therapist can support you to make behavioral changes by helping you identify blocks that may be outside of your awareness, exploring impediments, and modeling the above, healthy alternatives.

The above information based on an article on the Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) website, which I have added to and summarized:

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