Struggling with New Year's resolutions?
“Oh, I know exactly what I am supposed to do,” you may say. “I just need someone to kick me in the behind and make me do it!”
I’ll start a diet and lose a couple of pounds,
I’ll stop smoking,
I’ll enlist in fitness or a yoga class …
Times of transition, like the start of a new year or a birthday, make people pretend like they’re entering some magic portal. They fantasize how they’re going to pass an invisible line in time, then leave all their troubles behind and start with the changes they know are long overdue. Ah yes, 'tis the season of New Year's resolutions.
But the sad truth is that, by the end of the month, step by step, the good intentions get forgotten and you’re back to your bad routines, feeling ashamed because, supposedly, you’re not successful at something everybody else can accomplish if only they try hard.
So, what are the reasons behind your failure? (see Why is it so hard to change? )
In Transactional Analysis, one of the therapeutic methods I use with my clients, the inner structure of our psyche is represented as having different ego states, some critical and others nurturing. These structures are revealed in your inner speech and in various, sometimes conflicted, dialogues. Listen to the responses of the people around you, especially your “significant others”, and the voices in your head.
Try to distinguish between the four different, sometimes opposing authorities as represented by the statements below. What do they tell you about who you are and what you should do?
The Outer Critic
The Outer Nurturing Voice
The Inner Critic (ego state Critical Parent)
The Inner Nurturing Voice (ego state Nurturing Parent)
The Outer Critic: the kick-ass authority
Your doctor: “You should lose a few pounds unless your high blood pressure is going to cause you a stroke!”
Your partner: “You should stop drinking and smoking because you stink and are a bad example for the kids.”
Your boss: “Your work performance is low, I think you are checking social media during office times!”
Everybody has a boss, a parent, a partner, a friend, or at least someone who assumes authority by criticizing and telling them what they should do, sometimes threatening adverse consequences. All very serious kicks in the ass, threatening really bad consequences. So why don’t they work for longer than a couple of weeks?
It’s because when someone approaches you from a critical standpoint, you start feeling inferior and regress into childish obedience, instead of taking responsibility for change. You want to please them, but when they’re not looking, there’s no motive to give up your instantaneous pleasure.
The Outer Nurturing Voice: The cheerleader
“Come on, yes, you can do it! Try harder, keep it up!”
Who doesn’t want to hear it, and hear it often? It’s a great asset when you try to change and overcome your weaknesses, to have someone around who believes in you even when it’s hard for you to believe in yourself.
But … yes, there’s a downside to it. We all know stories of icons like Elvis or Marilyn, who were adored by the masses, but they behaved like they still depreciated themselves. The downside is that in the absence of your Internal Nurturing Voice (see below), no amount of external praise will convince you that you are good enough. Like a drug addict craving the next shot, you can become addicted to the praise of other people and exhaust yourself trying to please them. You can’t get enough of what you don’t need.
The Inner Critic
You'll never amount to anything!
What a loser! You're not worth the air that you breathe!
Get out of my sight, you miserable loser!
Face it! You don't have the guts to make it!
It’s painful to read, I know. But most of my clients hear such voices in their minds all the time. It’s stressful. For some, who have suffered serious adversities in their lives, it can be traumatic, meaning that their defense mechanisms are triggered. When you’re under stress or even trauma (serious stress that involves fear of imminent death), you react differently. It’s our bodies and automatic regulation that take command over our behavior. In survival mode, we react instinctively: either run and fight or freeze our responses and “play dead.” Both responses involve repression of your rational thinking. If in danger, instincts are faster to rely on than rationality.
People who have been traumatized as children can develop self-soothing mechanisms to weather the bad times, like fantasizing, eating too much, and acting out sexually, and these can develop into addictions. The angry voices in their heads constantly trigger their defenses and they feel like they’re in peril and need to defend themselves all of the time. When trying to abstain from self-soothing/addictions, the voices get louder and more disturbing to the point that they sabotage their success.
That is why you need no kick in the ass, no outer authority to criticize you. There’s enough criticism already within you, acting like an internal traumatizing agent. What you need is to take yourself seriously and believe in your success.
The Inner Nurturing Voice
You don't need to be perfect to succeed: you try hard and it's good enough!
Easy does it! One day at a time! It works if you work it! (Alcoholics Anonymous slogans for recovery)
We'll take a day at the time, and tomorrow again commit for another day. C'mon, you'll make it!
Maybe it feels like these statements make you put down your guard and set you up for failure, but more likely, taking it easy will shut down your Inner Critic and help your rational brain function better. You can strengthen your Inner Nurturing Voice by meditating, taking time out to be in nature, positive affirmations (reading books by Luise Hay), prayer, writing a Gratitude journal, and by other nurturing deeds. By far the most efficient system for self-installing a Nurturing Voice are the exercises from A Course in Miracles.
Try it! It works if you work it!
Sanja Rozman is a medical doctor, psychotherapist and author of 8 books on behavioral addictions.
Read more in her book Serenity: How to Recognize, Understand, and Recover from Behavioral Addictions
that is about to be published by Brandylane Publishers Inc., Belle Isle Books.