January. It's the time of year when we have a universal clean slate to start again, begin anew, and reset.
As a clinical psychologist in Denver, I regularly incorporate goal-setting, resolutions, and commitments into my work with clients. During this time of year, I witness a heightened motivation and greater desire to change patterns and behaviors for a population dedicated to self-development and improvement.
Below you'll find four steps I share with clients and friends to prepare for successful change. While therapy is a great place to develop insight into past and current obstacles to change, check in and recommit to goals, the real challenge is staying on track on the days between sessions, and here are some tips to support just that.
Make a “Pros” and “Cons” List
This trick helps in almost any decision in life and is a powerful visual reminder of why we commit to change. The simple act of writing a goal down actually makes you significantly more likely to take action on that goal. Seeing a list of items on paper keeps motivation high and lists are easier to remember when challenges arise. For example, if you’ve resolved to watch less television, make a list of the more inspiring, healthy, and sustainable ways you’d rather spend your time, along with the negative effects of TV, and post this somewhere you see often.
Break Things Down
We are programmed to dream big and set idealist goals. Research on New Year's resolutions indicates that 46% of those who make formal resolutions (with smaller, measurable goals), compared to 4% of those who do not set identifiable goals, are still making continuous progress at six months into making a resolution. This means that like any big goal, it's important to set milestones and focus on small steps throughout the way. Consider a visual progress chart as a tool that requires calling upon self-control in manageable amounts, while building willpower. Instead of "losing 20 pounds", commit to salads for lunch or three gym visits a week for starters. These measurable commitments will contribute to the big picture as attainable, reinforcing steps.
Set Up Mobile Reminders
While we all have a love-hate relationship with technology, why not leverage it for your greater good? Schedule resolution time -- slatting time for reading books, connecting with your partner fully, or going for a walk -- by setting an alarm on your phone or computer to keep your goal top-of-mind. While you are at it, check out this collection of resources that just might help you stick to your commitments -- whether those be physical or emotional health, financial, or lifestyle.
Have a plan for dealing with missteps
A common reason that over half of resolutions aren’t successful past January is what’s informally called the “what the hell” effect. When you commit to a somewhat radical change and “fall off the wagon” or lapse, it’s easy to spiral downward when willpower is already low. The best way to avoid this common misstep is to first realize that falling off the goal wagon will happen at some point - yes, it’s normal. To counteract this, create a detailed plan for relapse outlined ahead of time. A relapse strategy may include support person(s) you can call to set you straight or to help you minimize the lapse, how to start again, and how to talk yourself out of shaming yourself into giving up entirely. Anticipate the limits of your willpower along with this relapse strategy. For instance, if your New Year’s resolution is around money management, and you find yourself on a unnecessary shopping spree, have a plan in place to get back on track, and refer to it when needed.
Perhaps 2016 is the year you finally commit to YOU….a year of self-care, reflection, health, and happiness. Therapy can be a transformational place to solidify personal change and can provide the support needed to finally blossom into your greatest self. If you are interested in learning how I can support your 2016 goals and dreams, contact Center for Shared Insight and schedule time with me, Dr. Hick, today.