Insights – 4 min read

Resolution versus Revolution. Why New Year’s resolutions fail.

January 25, 2023
By Dr. Mark Whittington and Gaby Bush

As happens every New Year, resolutions are already dropping like flies. It’s the perfect time to consider how “Revolution“ rather than “Resolution” sets us up for disappointment. Modest achievable goals succeed where grand ambitions fail. As we travel into the New Year the headlights of metaphor can reveal many helpful insights and strategies that can help us change for the better.

This metaphor distance is a good example of what constructional psychologists mean when they say physiology influences psychology.

“I’m past it.”

“The deadline is creeping closer.”

“Down the track.”

“They’re close.”

“We drifted apart.”

“You’re getting ahead of yourself.”

“She fell behind.”

We even occasionally conflate time and distance:

“…light-years away.”

These “distance” metaphors travel effortlessly between tongues and cultures including, amongst others, Germanic, Romance and Slavic language families, as well as Japanese and Turkish.

(See: “Distance in Language: Grounding a Metaphor Edited by Barbara Sonnenhauser and Anastasia Meermann. ISBN: 1-4438-7261-X)

This is because when we talk about being emotionally close to someone, the right angular gyrus of the brain is activated, the exact same part of the brain that processes physical distance. Excellent proof of the old saying that “metaphor is the shortest distance between two ideas”.

When we feel well enough to do something we say we are up to it. Conversely, when unwell we lie down. We feel low. A bit under the weather. Emerging from this fascinating rabbit hole back into the bright prospects of the New Year…

New Year brings with it the opportunity to distance ourselves from our past. We are energised by the potential of a new start in the unblemished present. Yet, we all too often trip ourselves up with unrealistic expectations and magnitudes of change that are simply too great.

The mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous is, “Just for today.” The alcoholic is asked to not drink just for today. They are not asked to resolve to never ever drink again. Today is doable. Forever may be hard to imagine. Success lies in breaking the daunting prospect of abstinence for a lifetime down into bite sized digestible pieces. When struggling to change unhealthy deeply entrenched habits, it is best to implement small doable increments of change over short endurable periods of time. Strenuously avoid “all or nothing” thinking. The inflexible mindset that demands that you adhere utterly to a draconian diet or exercise regime dooms us to failure. The rigid bootcamp mindset will trip you up every time.  Be gentle with yourself and have a realistic grasp of the time, discipline and perseverance required to make the changes you’re aiming for.

Metaphorical Therapy reframes the way you see your problems. Looking at our challenges through the lens of metaphor is an excellent way to reveal potential pitfalls. One mistake is a lapse not a relapse. Every setback is temporary until you decide it isn’t. Treat your setbacks as temporary and transitory and they will not derail your goals or undermine your resolutions. A step forward, however small, is still a step forward. Think about the metaphor of the stream that wears down the mountain by washing away a few grains of sand at a time. One minute, one hour and one day at a time is the way to make the most headway in the New Year. Here’s hoping that your resolutions hold and that your best wishes come true.

About the author

Dr. Mark Whittington and Gaby Bush

Dr. Mark Whittington is a graduate of the distinguished Otago Medical School, and has more than 30 years’ experience working at the clinical coalface as a Consultant Psychiatrist.

Gaby Bush is a creative director, writer ,ex-patient, corporate refugee, and survivor of severe PTSD. Gaby is living proof of how well the Metaphorical Therapy System works in the real world.

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