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Why do people make plans and want to change their lives?

It is usually associated with some special moments in life, e.g. the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one, round birthdays or marriage. We experience this recurring urge to improve, change and do something new. The need to check your life balance and make new plans may also be triggered by situations such as a pandemic, that is related to a threat or the so-called end of the world. The need to change yourself and your life often comes when a disaster strikes. We say to ourselves: “If I survive this, I will go on a pilgrimage or go to yoga five times a week to keep my spine healthy”.

However, we often fail to implement these plans or to persevere in them longer.

This is influenced by three factors: individual characteristics, the dynamics of the situation that prompted us to make these resolutions, and priorities that change throughout our lives.

Which factor is the most critical to success or failure?

It is more of a combination of many of them.

We differ in individual features. There are people with temperaments or characters who find it naturally easier to be more disciplined, conscientious, organised, persistent, and there are those who let go quickly. It is easy for them to make plans, e.g. to travel around the world, but when something goes wrong, e.g. collecting money, they give up. We also know that there are people who tend to put things off until tomorrow, that is to give in to notorious procrastination.

When we make a commitment in a threatening situation, e.g. an epidemic or a natural disaster, our mental resilience also has a large impact on the implementation of our plans.

The one we acquire with time and life experience?

Under the influence of various events, we bend like a tree blown back and forth by wind. When the wind stops, the tree comes back upright and grows, but the wind can also be strong enough to break it. Certain experiences make us bend and then grow stronger. But there are also some that can break or cripple us. Mental resilience is based on innate temperament, but is mostly acquired.

In an emergency, e.g. an epidemic, do we make and implement our plans differently than in normal life?

A shock makes us reflect more. A lot of stress can cause us to re-evaluate our priorities. In the pandemic, many people, especially young people, decided to stop buying so many clothes and start protecting the planet. The elders, on the other hand, felt that their lives were in danger and began to think about the fact that maybe they should hurry up in sorting out their affairs. Forgive someone something, reconcile with someone, do something that has been postponed until later. The elders felt that there might not be tomorrow.

Diseases, war, cataclysm, things that we have no control over are shock therapy that makes us see the important things and disregard the less important ones.

Did many of us forget our plans and goals after the lockdown because we stopped being afraid?

When the pressure of the factor that made us reflect is reduced, we often let go. We realised that this was not the end of the world, and we thought with relief: “I have time, I can do it next year”. Our attitude towards unrealised plans is ambivalent: on the one hand, we feel relieved that the catastrophe did not happen, and on the other, we feel bitterness and regret. We wish the lockdown was not over. It seems to us that if it lasted longer, we would definitely...

How do I deal with unfulfilled plans, promises and the feeling that I'm good for nothing?

If you often start something but do not finish it, if you want to do something but cannot make yourself do it, if you make plans but never realise them, it is worth analysing. Think about why this is happening, whether it really is your plan and whether you really want to do it. Is it not just pressure from the environment?

You can work on persistence. At the beginning, it is extremely important to have support of a loved one who will motivate you and vice versa. You should tell someone you trust about your plan and let them hold you accountable in a way. With time, you should develop a habit of doing things which bring you closer to execution, and then it is easier. The key is the ability to realistically assess your abilities and to adapt your plans to them. Deciding to sail alone around the world when I'm afraid to go deeper in the water than my knees is immature and is an endeavour that is doomed to failure.

Maybe you also need to be able to come to terms with your weaknesses and mediocrity?

We often compare ourselves with others, it's natural. But you can compare “up” and “down”. If we compare ourselves “up”, that is, with people who have achieved more than we have, sometimes we will be ambitious in pursuing our goals, but more often we will be frustrated. There will always be those I cannot catch up with. Whatever I do, I will never be Maria Skłodowska-Curie. It is worth accepting this idea with serenity. Realising that someone had greater opportunities, gift and talent.

When we feel bad about having achieved less, it's good to look “down”. To realise how many people did not have the opportunities that I took. It is not worth wasting your life fixating on your failures and blaming the whole world or yourself. Or dwelling on the fact that I studied, worked hard and still didn't get the Nobel Prize. You should say to yourself cheerfully: “It wasn't meant to be.” But, for example, I know two foreign languages, have a nice job, a good husband or wife, wonderful children, a devoted friend, a house of my own design. It is worth focusing on all the good things in our life, on what we have, not on what we are lacking. The feeling of gratitude activates many pro-health neurochemical processes in our body.

*Iwona Sikorska, PhD – specialist in clinical psychology, works at the Institute of Applied Psychology of the Jagiellonian University, studies human mental resilience

“Tenderness and freedom. Let's build balanced relationships” is a campaign run by Kulczyk Foundation along with “Wysokie Obcasy” and “Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation”.

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