By Judith S. Beck, PhD
President, Beck Institute

First, let’s acknowledge that keeping New Year’s resolutions is difficult. If it were easy, we wouldn’t wait until January 1 to institute a change. We’d likely do it soon after we realized a new behavior was something we should do, or a current unhelpful behavior was something we should stop doing.

This past year, for example, I recognized that walking most days (even if for only a few minutes) and noticing nature had increased my sense of well-being. Doing better self-care was a value that had become increasingly important to me. I didn’t need to wait for New Years. I just started looking at my schedule every morning to see when I could fit in this activity.  

It was easy. It wouldn’t have been, though, had I been plagued with “I don’t feel like it” thoughts. Often, waiting until we “feel” like doing something is a big mistake. It probably accounts for a large proportion of why people procrastinate on a task or activity or fail to follow through on a resolution. “I don’t feel like… meal prepping; going to the gym; cleaning off my desk; returning a package to a store…” The list could go on and on. I’ve found that people who have entrenched rules such as “I don’t have to do things unless I feel like doing them,” or “I should wait until I feel like it to do things,” often put themselves at a great disadvantage. While they may feel an immediate sense of relief from avoidance, they may also feel a little helpless, out of control, or dissatisfied with themselves. 

It’s also important to recognize that every time you give in to an “I don’t feel like it” thought, you strengthen your “giving in muscle,” i.e., your tendency to avoid experiences you predict will be unpleasant. But every time you effectively respond to a thought like this, you strengthen your “control muscle,” i.e., your tendency to get yourself to do what you need to do.

Some individuals tend to overestimate how unpleasant a task might be. Have you had the experience of saying to yourself, “I can’t believe I let this [task] go so long! It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be”? It’s a common experience. One good approach when you have the thought, “I don’t feel like doing this,” is to say, “That’s true, but I’ll feel better/more in control/happier with myself, if I try it for just ten minutes.” You might then find that it’s relatively easy to keep going. If not, you can stop and reschedule another time to try, maybe when you’re more alert and energetic.

It’s not necessary to counter all “I don’t feel like it” thoughts. But if you want to have a sense of well-being, identify which tasks or activities are in alignment with your key values and aspirations. Then don’t wait until New Year’s Day, the first day of a season, your birthday, or any other date. Do an experiment. Set aside a few minutes to engage in this activity today, regardless of how you feel.