By Kyle Shiver, LPC and Joseph Kanengiser, LSCW
New Years is often the time when we decide to make big changes in our lives. We may think, “I’m going to eat better and exercise” or, “I’m going to stop smoking cigarettes.” New Years resolutions tend to fail for a number of reasons, but rather than focus on why they fail, here are some strategies that can help you actually achieve your goals for 2019.
Be ridiculously specific. You are more likely to follow through if you make your plan as detailed as possible. What are the specifics of that new workout routine you’ve been waiting to start? What daily recipes will you use this week to move toward a healthier diet? Dig into the small details like time of day, commute time to the gym, which grocery store you will use for ingredients, etc. The more detailed your personal map is, the more likely you are to follow it.
Make it visible. Post your plan somewhere in your home you would see it multiple times a day (the bathroom mirror, kitchen cabinet, refrigerator door, etc.). Seeing your plan multiple times a day will decrease avoidance and encourage accountability.
Make micro-goals. Baby steps win the race. Write down your major goal, but don’t stop there. Incremental change tends to stick more than major shifts, so break down your ultimate goal into tiny short-term, achievable daily goals. Making sure your short-term goals are absolutely achievable can help prevent you from being overwhelmed when you step back and look at your long-term goal, which will keep you from giving up. Making tiny adjustments each day that inch you toward your goal will put wind in your sails and make you feel successful at the end of each day.
Choose ONE thing to change. Trying to change too many parts of our way of being at once just doesn’t work, so choose one behavior in your life you assess as unhealthy and focus on that. Remember it took a long time for that undesirable thing in your life to grow, so it’s going to take some time to dismantle the old habits and build new ones. Be patient with yourself, understanding that it may take a while!
Forgive yourself for setbacks. Relapses are the norm, not the exception. Don’t expect yourself to be a superhero — you’re not. Change is never linear, and setbacks are almost guaranteed! Being hard on yourself will actually further de-motivate you. Practice self-forgiveness and let go of the shame. Try writing yourself friendly notes of forgiveness and encouragement when you slip up like the rest of us.
Use your social support. We tend to stick to our plans and achieve more of our goals when we our external social resources for support. Involve a buddy, partner, family member, or coworker in your plan. Maybe you can find someone with a similar goal. Use the relationship to plan together, practice your new healthy behaviors together, and talk together about successes and challenges along the way. Not only will this help you with accountability, but will also provide the emotional support and resilience you just can’t muster yourself. We are social beings. Lean into it!
Go to therapy. You don’t have to be struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness to seek therapy. All that’s necessary is for you to want to make a positive change in your life. A therapist is specifically trained to help support you in the achievement of a new way of being in the world. Shop around a little, and find a therapist that fits your personality well. Feeling a good fit with your therapist is one of the most important contributors to positive therapeutic change. There’s still a lot of stigma around seeking therapy, and none of those reasons are good ones. Therapy is a normal and healthy thing for everyone. If you are privileged enough to have access to therapy, use it!