With the busy holiday season over, New Year’s is a time for many to breathe a sigh of relief as they return to their regular routines and begin focusing on making healthy lifestyle changes. Unless, that is, you’re one of the many people who no longer make New Year’s resolutions because of the disappointments of resolutions past. If that’s the case, do not despair. According to Laura Drury, MSW, LICSW, clinical director of Social Services at Butler Hospital, New Year’s is a perfect time to make healthy resolutions, no matter what our experience has been in the past. After all, she reminds us, “Auld Lang Syne,” the song often sung to bring in the new year, literally means ‘times gone by’.”
A new year is a time for taking stock, reflecting on the past and deciding how to make the next year better. While there are all different types of resolutions—the more popular ones being weight loss, exercise, quitting smoking or drinking—they don’t all have to be physical or health related. Drury explains, “behavioral resolutions, like working on having more patience with yourself and others, or listening more, are wonderful changes we can make, too.”
The key to success is understanding that change is a process that takes time and commitment. “We live in a society that wants things now,” says Drury, and the most important thing we can do, she emphasizes, “is to let go of all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking.” She describes that kind of thinking with an all-too-familiar scenario for many of us: “You’ve just eaten a piece of cake that was not on your diet, you feel like you’ve blown it, so now you head home to eat everything in the ‘fridge.” Instead, learn to be patient, expect set backs and slips, and get right back on track without beating yourself up.
To make working on resolutions easier, first set simple and realistic goals. Drury explains, “when we set grandiose goals, like losing 55 pounds by the summer or never losing your patience ever again, it’s easy to become frustrated and unmotivated.” In order to prevent your motivation from waning, visualize yourself attaining your goal every morning, and if you do have a setback, be compassionate with yourself.
Second, develop a plan of action and write out the steps you need to take to reach your goal. Track your progress not your setbacks, but also try to anticipate hot spots, planning in advance how to handle or avoid situations that trigger setbacks.
Third, identify people who will be most supportive to you and ask them for help. It’s important to be clear about what will be helpful to you, or it can turn into a bit of a hot spot. Drury explains, “oftentimes, if you have a slip, the people supporting you may give feedback. However, well-intentioned, they may seem to come on too strong, which has the opposite effect.” So, take responsibility for the kind of support you ask for and remind the people supporting you to be compassionate.
Finally, remember that whatever behaviors you are trying to resolve, were initially established for a reason. Drinking to excess, smoking, overeating and other such behaviors are very effective, in the short term, in reducing anxiety and stress. However, overtime they become increasingly more problematic. Reminding yourself frequently of the long-term negative consequences of these behaviors can help you to be strong and more successful in attaining your goals. Also, if you do have an underlying illness, such as depression, anxiety, an eating disorder or addiction, seeking help and treating the underlying condition can help you prevent setbacks with resolutions.