Resilience Tip - Making Resolutions Work


Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks.While some people are naturally more resilient than others, resiliency can also be intentionally developed.

Making Resolutions Work

'Tis the season for making resolutions. And 'tis shortly the season where we scratch our heads and wonder what happened to those resolutions. How to actually make those resolutions stick?

Experience suggests that it takes roughly 3-4 weeks for humans to turn new ways of acting into habits, habits being those ways of acting that no longer require a great deal of conscious intention and conscious effort but rather tend toward automatic ways of acting. Unfortunately, many resolutions never make it to the 3rd or 4th week. We are full of energy the first few days. The next few days get a little more difficult. And then our resolution begins to look like an endless uphill push.

Expectations are key. When we know that it will take 3-4 weeks, when we know that at some roughly known time - less effort will be required, we tend to be able to maintain our motivation. As in a special project at work, if we are asked to work extra long days for two weeks in order to meet an important deadline (and we have been led to care about our workplace), we are likely to agree and manage the extra hours. But being asked to work extra long days for the foreseeable future is less motivating and more problematic. "Come on, that extra push for just a few weeks, then it will get easier." sings easier to human ears than "Come on, another day, keep pushing."

However, this shift from new action to habit does not miraculously happen, it does take concerted intention for those 3-4 weeks, what we call "consistent action". All routes toward mastery require practice, including our typical resolutions. We are most familiar with this in terms of physical work-outs, increasing repetitions on gym equipment or treadmills or laps in the pool in order to build up our physiological muscles. Similarly, building mental and behavioral muscles initially requires consistent and disciplined action. These muscles may also require gradual development. If you resolve to count to 10 when angry before responding, you may aim for doing so 25% of the time the first week, then 50%, and so on. The act of noticing and beginning to change the habit helps build the muscle. And the feeling of success in reaching the goal of 25% is way more rewarding and motivating than beating ourselves up when we lapse in the first week.

Resolutions are great, and they are a development of new patterns, and development takes time - true development tends not to have short-cuts. So check your expectations (roughly 3-4 weeks for shifting new action into habit), and rejoice in the gradual yet effective building of new muscles.

Shana Tova, and G'mar Hatima Tovah.

Carolyn S. Tal, PhD
Psychologist and Consultant
Working with individuals and partners in
developing resilience and related issues