It’s 12:01am, January 1st, 2016. Like most of us, you’ve probably decided that you’re going to do something differently in the New Year. You reflect upon it, smile, and perhaps for the next few days, demonstrate your resolve to keep better financial records, cut back on the booze, or get back to the gym. Sometime in mid-January though, things start to shift. You’re busier, less motivated, more tired, and before you know it, it’s 12:01, January 1st, 2017. This year will be different you tell yourself, this time I will succeed. How can you avoid making the same missteps you make every year? Read on to find out!
1. You resolve to change too much: You resolve to eat healthier, exercise more, quit smoking, spend more quality time with your family, stop procrastinating; the list goes on and on. The difficulty here is that you’ve set yourself up for failure before the final champagne stain is cleaned from the carpet. It’s likely that whatever habits you’ve decided to change did not develop overnight, and it’s not possible to fix them all overnight either. To make lasting, meaningful change, commit to one goal, and break it down into smaller steps. If you have been sedentary all year, you might start with ten minutes of walking 3 times per week rather than 2 hour long, daily boot-camp classes. Success breeds success, and the more you set yourself up to succeed, the more motivation you will have to change.
2. You resolve to change someone else: There’s a terribly unfunny, but very truthful joke that psychologists like to tell. How many psychologists does it take to change a light-bulb? The punchline is, just one, but the light-bulb has to want to change. Do you find that year after year, you resolve to change the people around you? Do you find yourself back at square one next year, making the same resolutions? The only people we really have the power to change are ourselves. You certainly can ask for change assertively, but if year after year you’re not getting it, it may be time to focus on yourself. Is what you’re asking for not reasonable? Are you putting up with hurtful or damaging behaviors from others? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, it’s time to look inward, and resolve to change the person you actually can, yourself.
3. You think you have to do it all alone: Oftentimes, when we resolve to change, we keep it to ourselves. There are many reasons people do this, from shame about the behavior they’re trying to change, to fear of making their resolutions public in case of failure. This secrecy is isolating, and serves to cut us off from the very support that we need to make lasting change. You don’t have to broadcast your resolutions on Facebook and Twitter, but letting a few, trusted friends in on your plans to change will not only provide you with much needed social support, a public declaration of your intent to change will help to hold you more accountable.
4. You believe old myths about yourself: I’m lazy. I never do anything right. I’m not smart enough. I’m too old. I’m too young. Are cognitive distortions getting in your way when you try to make positive changes? Cognitive distortions are untrue, negative automatic thoughts, based on beliefs that we developed about ourselves, other people, and the world, as we grew up. How do you change the broken record in your head? Try challenging and replacing cognitive distortions with more realistic thoughts. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is an effective way to learn to change negative thoughts to more realistic ones!
5. You think that there’s only one time of year where change is possible: If you believe that you need to wait for the year to change in order to change yourself, you’re missing out on the 364 other opportunities you have throughout the year to make meaningful change! Understanding the stages of change may help you to motivate yourself regardless of season.
At this time of year, folks all over the world resolve to change and grow. I hope this post will help you to avoid some of the New Year’s Resolution pitfalls, and make lasting change in the year to come (or whenever you decide to make it)! The following is a list of resources to help you on the road to change!
SMART Recovery – a program based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy for people struggling with all forms of addiction.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance – helping people with depression and bipolar disorder connect and aid one another.
The International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation – Providing resources to individuals with OCD and their loved ones.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness – Providing resources and support to individuals with mental illness and their loved ones.