January 2014 - How Are Those New Year’s Resolutions Treating You?
If you’re anything like the average person in this country, you’re probably already contemplating throwing in the towel on your resolutions. Numerous studies indicate that while many people enjoy the ritual of creating New Year Resolutions, very few stick with them for any meaningful length of time. This is really a shame when you consider that the most popular resolutions include improving health habits, creating better connections with others, and increasing overall happiness and life satisfaction. So why is it so hard to stick to a resolution, especially one that would seemingly give you what you want?
One of the biggest reasons that resolutions fail has to do with creating goals that are too broad, too ambitious, and too complicated. Every year, one of the most poplar resolutions is to lose weight. For many, weight loss can have significant health implications. Among other things, being overweight or obese can increase blood pressure, diabetes, chronic pain, and even contribute to infertility. Many decide that beginning January 1st, they will start restrictive diets and head back to the gym. However, without a well-thought-out goal and assessment of your current behaviors, this resolution will be easily thwarted and possibly cause feelings of failure, depression, hopelessness, and despair.
It’s very important to begin any habit change by examining your current routine and break it down. Old habits have a purpose in your life and many of them likely meet some sort of need. In order to change these habits, you’ll need to understand how to replace the need it is fulfilling. Understanding what your true needs are can be confusing at times and some people find the support of someone they trust or a psychotherapist to be helpful in the process. Additionally, it’s essential that you explore the negative triggers that keep you from following through with your changes. In the example of a weight loss goal, you may want pick one behavior to change at a time. An illustration of this would be making a goal around only eating dessert two times per week. Before you begin, it will be helpful to assess exactly how much dessert you currently eat, when you eat it, what circumstances cue you to eat desserts (positive and negative), and what need the sweets might be fulfilling.
The next step is to create a plan. This plan should be written down and consist of “SMART” goals. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Recordable, and Time-based. You need to focus on the behavior you want to replace in order to change the old habit. In our dessert example, you’ll want to create specific alternatives as soon as you feel triggered to overeat desserts. One strategy would be to focus on increasing something positive—like eating more fruit. Creating a goal where you are increasing a pleasurable behavior can be infinitely more effective that taking something away. No one likes to feel deprived and many become resentful when they encounter deprivation. This could sabotage even the best intentioned goal.
Additional strategies for success include getting social support or a buddy in order to increase motivation and accountability. You should expect to stumble from time to time so try not to let this get you down. Occasionally reverting back to old habits is a part of the process of creating new habits. The most important thing is to create healthy and life-affirming goals that make you feel good about yourself, not to reinforce a sense of failure. If you are setting goals or changing habits as a result of low self-worth or pressure from others, you may sabotage yourself and create a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure. If you fine yourself getting stuck in any part of the change process, it can be very helpful to get support from a professional. I find that mindfulness as well as cognitive behavioral techniques can help tease out and address your barriers to success. In my practice I help women and teens explore what is getting in their way to experience success. For more information about these therapies and my practice, go to my website: http://angela-lcsw.com