By: Daniel Mark, M.S
Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. – Mark Twain
Many people chose to make New Year’s resolutions, such as lose weight, eat better, quit smoking, watch less TV, exercise more, be kinder, save money, etc. These resolutions come from a good place: someone wants to make a change in their life, and they use the start of a new year as a turning point. So gyms are joined, junk food/alcohol/cigarettes are thrown out, salad green fly off the shelves, treadmills are purchased, new books are added to the kindle, old acquaintances are un-forgot, and so on. However, as the weeks (or days) wear on, many of us slip back into our old patterns. By the time a few months have passed Goodwill and Craigslist are chock full of gently used items, gyms have emptied out, exercise equipment has become clothes hangers, and many of our old patterns have crept back in.
This may lead you to ask- what gives? What happens to our motivation? Why do so many resolutions go to the wayside? Well when we are talking about making real change in our lives, the desire or motivation to change is just the first step. This is not to downplay their importance. Often it takes us a long time to build up the motivation needed to make significant changes in our lives. However, most resolutions are made in a way that makes it hard to succeed! When we set goals for ourselves, there are several steps we can take to improve our chances of being able to follow through.
- Get Specific: What exactly is the goal? Eating better could mean many different things- fewer calories, more fiber, fewer animal products… Getting into shape could be getting stronger, running faster, dropping body fat percentage, etc. When we set ambiguous goals like this, it becomes difficult to know when we reach them. Make sure your goal is clear to you.
- Set up the steps: What is it going to take to reach your goal? What are the little pieces that are going to fit together to make the bigger picture? This can include deciding how often or how much each step will be. For example, going to the library to read for one hour three times a week.
- Track your progress: Ask yourself “How could an outside observer see the change?” Try to set up concrete or quantifiable ways of measuring your progress.
- Anticipate challenges: Often times our old habits developed for a reason. There are things in our lives that push us towards our old habits. Think about what is going to stand in your way and start making plans! If you want to watch less TV, what is going to replace that time? If you are cutting back on drinking, how will you respond when offered alcohol? Further, anticipate setbacks! Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. We have to build in flexibility when planning in order to increase our success. Ordering dessert after one dinner doesn’t have to mean the diet is over. After setbacks, we have to revisit our motivation for change and figure out how we can set our selves up for better success in the future.
- Add motivation: Changing our habits is not easy! Add incentives or ways of keeping yourself motivated along the way. How could you celebrate your 20th trip to the gym or 2 weeks without a cigarette? You know yourself best, so come up with ways to celebrate your successful steps.
- Be reasonable: It can be very tempting to reach for the stars when setting a goal. But the bigger the goal, the longer it is going to take. If your goal is to lose weight, think about how long it took to put the weight on. Something like training for a marathon takes months, not just weeks.
- Get support: We all get by with a little help from our friends. Is there a way to get your friends/family/coworkers on board with helping you reach your goals? Maybe they know better than to offer you a cookie. Having a gym/reading/diet buddy can help keep you accountable.
At the end of the day, it is great that you want to make improvements in your life! If you follow these steps, you can set yourself up to meet your new goals. If you are interested in learning more about setting goals, North Texas Counseling Associates is going to publish more on making changes in our lives in the upcoming weeks. Finally, if you think you need help finding motivation or setting up a plan for your success, you can meet with one of the many different therapists at North Texas Counseling Associates who can help you along the way!