Aren’t resolutions designed to help us streamline our lives and get us closer to happiness? Well, sometimes they can result in procrastination, regret, and feelings of inadequacy. Clinical Psychologist Emma Basch has some tips to deal with your New Year’s Resolution challenges.
It’s that time of year again. The end of the year brings holiday cheer, and with it New Year’s Resolutions. It’s a lovely intention – reflecting on the year before, committing to positive change, turning over a new leaf as the calendar turns. And yet, 92% of people are unable to stick to their New Year goals. My clinical practice tends to get busy towards the end of January as patients become frustrated, defeated, and ashamed by their difficulty following through with their resolutions. They’ve fallen into the New Year’s Resolution Trap. Of course they have. It’s a set up! Do we really expect that by picking a magical date and commanding ourselves to achieve lofty goals, we are going to succeed, particularly during one of the most stressful times of the year? No wonder my patients are struggling.
This New Year, don’t set yourself up for failure and the disappointment that can follow. Here are nine simple strategies to help you set reasonable and achievable goals, stick with them, and feel good about the changes you are making:
- Start Now. Why wait until Jan 1st? Postponing the “effective date” of your resolution won’t make you more likely to succeed, but it may you more likely to imbue the resolution with magic qualities that are bound to disappoint. If you’re not ready to start today, then use this week to map out a plan of action.
- Frame it in the Positive. Its much more effective and far more palatable to frame your resolution as adding to your life, rather than taking away from it. For example, it may feel more pleasant to think about adding in more time outside playing with your kids as a resolution rather than committing to watching less television.
- Be Specific. Instead of setting a vague or general resolution such as “I will be healthy this year,” be concrete and specific… saying instead, “I will eat more vegetables and exercise 3 times a week.”
- Break it down: Instead of having one large goal, try setting a few smaller goals or break your larger goal into steps. Perhaps plan on achieving one step each month.
- Make it Measurable. Make sure each resolution or each step in your overall goal is concrete and measurable so you can track your progress. Set a calendar alert so you can track your progress weekly, or monthly.
- Set Reminders. Find ways to keep your resolutions top of mind. I recommend visual reminders such as putting a sticky note on your mirror or refrigerator or setting the background of your phone or computer screen to display your goal.
- Be Realistic. Be honest with yourself about how much time you have, and how committed you are achieving the resolution. You can always add goals if you are finding that you are making quick progress on achieving your resolutions.
- Find your Motivation. Different strategies work for different people but one of my favorite motivators is often referred to as an “Anti-charity “pledge. Make a commitment to donate or volunteer for a cause that goes AGAINST your values, if you fail to stay true to your resolution. There is nothing like sending a few dollars to a cause you abhor to get you back on track.
- Be Accountable. Tell a few trusted confidants about your resolutions and enlist their help in keeping you on task. These accountability buddies can cheerlead your progress and hold you accountable for your lapses.
- Be Kind to Yourself. Its okay and expected to get off track. Progress is usually not linear so don’t let a slip up run you off the road. Find a way to acknowledge it, understand why it happened, and move forward.
One final word. Some resolutions are particularly challenging and are unwise to embark on without assistance. For example, if you want to stop drinking, leave an unhealthy relationship, or work on your mental health, please seek professional help so you be safe and well supported.
Emma Basch is a licensed clinical psychologist. Formally of Brooklyn, Emma now maintains a private practice in Washington, DC and offers phone/skype therapy to New York Based Clients. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, and has a speciality in women’s mental health with a focus on the perinatal period. She has received training from the Postpartum Stress Center and Postpartum Support International. For more information, you can check out her website at dremmabasch.com.