One of my main pet peeves is new years resolutions. As a Registered Psychologist, I deal with change on a regular basis and setting an arbitrary start point like the start of a new year is not an effective way to kickstart the major life changes you have been hoping to make. Let’s face it, new year’s resolutions are often too lofty and may not even be personally relevant or meaningful, just things you feel you should do-get healthier, go to the gym, lose weight, quit smoking, etc. What is it about the flip of a calendar that changes us? Nothing.
So what is a more effective way to go about the process of change? Here are a few tips:
Pick goals that are relevant and meaningful to you. Perhaps you have been struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food for years and would like this to change. It’s unlikely that, all of a sudden, you will go from binge eating and consuming lots of junk and fast food to 3 regular, balanced meals per day in the blink of a day. Rather, look at the larger goal of developing a healthy relationship with food and break it down.
Once you have established a goal that is meaningful to you, develop a plan. The most successful, sustainable change happens step by step, bit by bit. No one develops a healthy relationship with food overnight, nor do they do it in one fell swoop. It takes lots of small action steps. Perhaps the first is to eat breakfast. Or drink 3 glasses of water/day. Or reduce intake of one particular food that you’re vulnerable with. There is no right or wrong place to start, but pick something that’s doable.
Develop actions that are uncomfortable, but doable. If your action steps are so far away from where you are now, that can set up a feeling of failure, frustration, and shame which will defeat you in the pursuit of your goals. Rather, pick something that slightly edges you out of your comfort zone but is possible. Do two minutes of meditation (not 20). Walk around the block (rather than exercise for 30 minutes). Take the stairs. Start to take note of when you smoke and how you are feeling at the time. Check in on your feelings once/day. These are smaller steps that may be realistic for where you are today.
Congratulate yourself for progress, learn from hurdles. Our brains are very good at beating us up as we embark on a path to change. It is important to consciously remind yourself of the progress you are making and to develop an attitude of openness, curiosity, and learning from the obstacles you overcome rather than being consumed by shame for not achieving perfection. The obstacles may tell you that your goals are not relevant, or meaningful, or realistic at this point so reform the plan.
Remember that change is gradual and a process. Be slow, be patient, and be open. Change is a process and will unfold as it does, not necessarily how we envision.
Oh and, by the way, this is the change process that can happen at any time. New Year may not be the time for a new you and that’s okay. Take your time and take action when you are ready. In the waiting period you will get more information that will support your journey of change. All the best!
By Paige Abbott
Paige is a Registered Psychologist in private practice in Calgary, Alberta. Learn more about her and her services at www.sanapsychological.com