Making the Resolution
The new year is a time of reflection on the past and looking forward to the future. It has become commonplace to resolve to make changes in the coming year so that we are somehow a better person (thinner, happier, healthier, richer….etc.) Many times these resolutions are related to the “shoulds” that we have bouncing around in our heads. “I should be able to fit into a size 6 jeans.” “I should stop smoking.” “I should spend less money on coffee at Starbucks.” “I should have more fun.” “I should go to church more.” “I should stop texting while I drive.”
As a therapist, I notice “shoulds” when I hear my clients talk about their perceived failings or their goals. My philosophy is not that all “shoulds” need to be accepted as truth, but that we need to question their validity and ask if those shoulds are in line with our values as a person. Sadly, sometimes we accept the “shoulds” that we hear from others (or in the media) about how we should act or what kind of person we should be.
Before you jump on the band wagon on making New Year’s resolutions, stop for a minute and think about what is important to you and if anything is missing in your life that would make you feel happier. Are you missing out on time with family and friends? Are you tired of feeling out of breath easily and not having energy to have fun? Do you wish you could find time for a hobby? Do you wish that your sex life was more satisfying? The answer to these questions of self-reflection should guide you towards the changes you may want to make.
Keeping the Resolution
Once you have figured out what change you want to make, then the challenge can be to take the steps to make it happen. You may have noticed that I just mentioned “change” and not “changes” to make. In order to increase our chances of being successful, it is best to try to one change on thing at a time. We are creatures of habit and we need to focus on changing one habit at a time. When we have had several months of establishing a new habit, then we are ready to add in another lifestyle change.
Small, incremental steps towards an attainable goal is vital. Sudden, sweeping changes towards an unrealistic goal just don’t work. Telling yourself that you are going to get up at 5 a.m. every day and go to the gym is just not realistic. It is better to start with setting a goal of exercising 2-3 days per week. If you are able to achieve that goal, then add an extra day or more time per workout. Don’t tell yourself that you are giving up your daily Starbucks habit all together, but tell yourself that you will treat yourself 1-2 times per week.
Don’t expect perfection or berate yourself if you slip up. Change is hard and there will be times that old thought patterns or behavioral habits will trip you up. Don’t throw in the towel. If your goal was to do one fun thing each weekend and you have a weekend where it just isn’t possible, don’t let the negative self-talk take over. Just resolve to plan something fun next weekend and move on.
Happy New Year to all my friends, family, clients and colleagues. !
Dana Nolan, MS LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor