New Year’s Eve has always been a time to reflect on the changes we want (or need) to make and to resolve to follow through on those changes. Every year clients of mine tell me their lofty plans for New Year’s resolutions – find a boyfriend, lose weight, get healthy, quit smoking- and inevitably, like most people weeks later when I ask about the progress of their resolutions, they confess that they have abandoned their goals. Striving for positive change is important; by following some basic steps, you can improve your chances to achieve your goals.
Set reasonable expectations. Too often we set the bar too high. If you set unrealistic goals you will be doomed from the start. You will find yourself discouraged, lacking motivation and eventually facing failure. Be reasonable with your expectations of yourself- instead of a goal to lose fifty pounds, try to lose 10 and then reassess from there. If you believe your goal is attainable, then you will be driven to meet it.
Don’t be overly ambitious. It is hard enough to focus on making one positive change at a time, yet many people overload themselves with several resolutions. Trying to quit smoking, to better manage your finances and to start exercising regularly is a lot of responsibility to take on all at once. Tackling goals one by one will be far less overwhelming and will improve your chances of success. Remember, January isn’t the only time of year we can resolve to improve our lives; once you meet your goal, then plan to tackle another.
Determine an action plan and the steps you will take to meet your goal. If your goal is to be healthier, define the steps you will take to get there- eat 4 fruits and vegetables a day, get at least 8 hours sleep, schedule a physical, etc. Make sure these steps are reasonable for you, as discussed above, and don’t make your action plan more than you can handle. A resolution without a plan of action is merely wishful thinking.
Develop a support system. If you are committed to making change, share your plan with your family and friends. They can help push you and encourage you along the way. Some goals may be too big to face alone, such as losing weight or quitting smoking. Consider seeking out a support group in the area or online if you need it. Talking to people who are struggling with the same changes as you can help you move forward and meet your goal; it helps to know you are not alone.
Reward yourself. Recognize the positive changes you’ve made and reward yourself along the way. Take pride in your accomplishments and share your progress with others. Once you pass certain milestones, plan a treat for yourself, for example- once you hit your weight lose goal treat yourself to a night out. By setting rewards for yourself you have something to look forward to in addition to the self satisfaction you will feel.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Be flexible and don’t lose sight of your goals. If you fall off track, don’t wait until next year to try again. Evaluate your progress and think about where you failed and adjust your goal and action plan to something that is more attainable.
We could all benefit from some changes in our lives, so take advantage of the tradition of New Year’s resolutions to look back on the past year and evaluate something about yourself to improve upon in the year ahead.
Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D
Director and Founder