Resolutions… The Best of Intentions and How to Master Them
Brian Clemmons, M.Ed, LPC
Time magazine in December of 2020 offers us a list of the most commonly broken resolutions:
- Lose Weight and Get Fit
- Quit Smoking
- Learn Something New
- Eat Healthier and Diet
- Get Out of Debt and Save Money
- Spend More Time with Family
- Travel to New Places
- Be Less Stressed
- Drink Less
It stands to reason that these behaviors (or lack of behaviors) apply to many of us. There are some inherent strategies that we can deploy to increase our chances at changing. After all, whether we are setting out to do something more, less, or for the first time; it’s all about change!
In my private practice, I often call attention to language. How we talk about things influences how we think and feel about them. So, for purposes of this blog, let’s agree to call resolutions “changes.”
Right away looking at the above list, many of the changes reference starting or stopping something. That pays homage to the fact that it is not currently a part of our lives. Why not simply say “Be aware of everything I put into my body and make only healthy choices”? This instead of saying eat more healthy, stop smoking, drink less, etc.
Additionally, when we intend to eliminate a behavior from our daily lives, it is considered by many to be easier to substitute-in another behavior. The use of lifesaver candies in lieu of cigarettes is an example. Each time the urge for a cigarette strikes, eat a lifesaver.
Soft skills.com author Brad Zomick offers a more detailed plan for increasing the chances that intended changes take root in your life:
- Get your mind right- Look at past year’s resolutions; what were they? What gained traction? What didn’t progress at all? Be happy where you achieved. Learn where you didn’t. There is no failure; only feedback. Perhaps a previous intention to change can be fine tuned or built upon.
- Shoot for something meaningful- Others often have ideas of what we should do to improve. Set out to change in a way that is meaningful to you! Gradual changes that start out small and build upon success are often the changes that last.
- Get Real: Making a manageable number of change intentions that you can reasonably manage is much better than the laundry list that many create; only to fail in making progress on any.
- Use Strategy: Take a stack of post it notes and a pen and write on each a change you would like to make. Put the ones that resonate most with you up high. Place other ones lower in some sort of descending order. Organize similar changes together. Do you have groups of a large number of similar items? Do some items stand out more than others? Use this process to narrow down what changes are most relevant for you.
- Being Deliberate and Precise: Use a strategy such as the one below to make your change goals so that they are SMART goals:
- S- Specific. Set specific behavior you will engage in; Walk for 20 minutes a day.
- M- Measurable. Assigning a number to what you will do, how often, etc.
- A- Attainable. Set yourself up to succeed! Is the change behavior something you can reasonably expect to do?
- R- Relevant. Make sure what you intend to do fits with your values, beliefs and goals. It needs to matter to you!
- T- Time sensitive. Put a time frame in place. I will walk 20 minutes a day every day for one month and then I will increase how long I walk.
- Chunk It!: Break big changes into bite size portions. Under the change behavior of “eat more healthy” you could list “substitute a salad for a starch at each meal, “ “eat a sugar free low calorie dessert instead of ice cream,” etc.
- Make a Record of Intended Changes: List them and post it on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, your nightstand, the car visor, wherever is relevant to you. Look at it often and think of how this change will have a positive impact on you.
- Tell on Yourself: Let the people in your life know about your intended changes. This can be a valuable accountability measure and also a big motivator to stick with it.
- Make it Automatic:– Can you set alarms or reminders on your electronic devices? Do it! This will further reinforce and bring accountability to your process.
- Review and Evaluate: Check yourself regularly to measure your progress. Do it daily. What is working? What needs work?
- Relapse: Relapse is often a part of changing behavior. If you slip off track, get back on right away. Partial failure in making you change to set out to make can be followed up with new effort and resolve.
Here’s to 2021 being a year of positive change!