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Making a Resolution Stick

Posted By Joseph H. Rubin, Psy.D.

One of my current personal challenges is to write more blogs. I always plan to write more. But just beginning the process makes me shudder.  Why is it that sticking to resolutions or making these changes is so difficult?

Most of us resolve to be different in a number of ways each New Year. Usually they are similar from one year to another… lose a few pounds, be neater, keep on top of jobs/chores that we are just not that good at.

In my work the administrative duties tend to get the short shrift.  I’m a psychologist and my work is part direct service (ie therapy), and part doing the business of the job, such as bookkeeping, note writing and insurance forms.  What I enjoy, the therapy, comes easily…. the other tasks not so much.

Usually the first thing that comes to one’s mind when planning a goal is the negative belief that they lack self -discipline.  But honestly most people see themselves as having discipline, albeit selective self -discipline. So you might be very disciplined in finances or a work routine, but not in exercise or diet.  Or perhaps just the opposite may be true.  Our job is to work to understand our obstacles and find ways to make them less daunting.

Why is it so difficult to make and carry through with these changes? I believe that making any change causes emotional discomfort in our psyche. If it didn’t we would merely be able to do it. Making changes, even good changes can be hard, as the process causes this discomfort within us.  How can we learn to tolerate the distress of trying to change? How can we learn to build up our own personal distress tolerance?  There are typical ineffective/negative ways that people tolerate stress; drinking or self -medicating, procrastinating, denying or avoiding the problem. However, I believe we all can learn to try and tolerate discomfort. Also, there are actual steps one can take to help minimize the stress in order to make the task more attainable.  Here are some ideas that can be helpful in carrying through with these life changes.

Take small steps. Small, most of us can do. So the goal is to lose a little weight, not twenty pounds. Just a little at a time. If the goal is to exercise, begin with small periods of 15-20 minutes of exertion, and then build. Less is more; initially going slower is better, building up speed comes later. Set a distance, or an amount of time you can be walking or running, not both at the same time. This can be applied to any life change you are trying to accomplish. Remember small successes are very reinforcing.
Let others know of your plans. Going public with your goals adds a little more pressure to achieve them. Sometimes mild guilt can be productive and work to your benefit. Being more public can also aid in thinking first rather than acting on impulse.
Use external reminders. Stickies on the refrigerator, or goal reminders on your phone can not only help keep you on track, but also encourage mindful focus on what you currently doing.
This isn’t a pass/fail test. Taking on new goals is not a black or white, all or nothing task. So, if you fall off the wagon goal -wise, take it as a small falter and begin again. Try not to let a setback turn into a slide backward.
Labeling and avoiding pitfalls. Imagine a goal achieved. Then work backwards to see the possible pitfalls involved. What decisions might inhibit attaining the goal? Seeing the landscape of circumstances or challenges that might get in the way helps one anticipate situations and be more prepared for them. For example, if you want to limit your alcohol consumption and have parties or work events where there will be alcohol, it is wise to think ahead, and formulate a plan that will help you manage  your intake.
Imagine a goal achieved. What will that feel like? See yourself being pleased with the success and let in that positive feeling.
Pat yourself on the back. Allow some self-congratulations at the end of each day for doing what you set out to do. Just for that day. Eventually the days add up and contribute to your confidence. It can also be helpful to remind yourself each morning of what you have accomplished. This gives you a more positive attitude for the upcoming day.
So, how have you done?  So, how have I done? I have written my first blog of 2016. And it is still January. That is a pretty good start!

Read more about the author, Joseph H. Rubin, Psy.D.