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Do These Things Instead of Making New Year’s Resolutions

January 5, 2018

It’s that time of year again: about 50 percent of adults think about making a New Year’s resolution, but only about 10 percent will be able to set goals for the New Year and achieve them. Making changes in your life can be a challenging undertaking, so most people start out with the best of intentions, set goals, attempt them, forget about them, and then feel a deep sense of failure, frustration, and sometimes shame.

According to the experts, there are 4 specific steps that individuals work through before they actually are ready to attempt a significant change in their lives. It isn’t enough to just have a thought pop into your head at the end of December, such as “I’m going to lose 10 pounds by the end of January.” Setting goals and making a significant change in your life is a bit more complex.

In the first stage of change, most people don’t even consider making a change. But once an idea is introduced, they begin to contemplate a bit more about how they might be able to move towards change. They prepare for the change and then finally, set up a plan to spring into action.

These 4 stages have their own set of challenges and people might just get stuck in one area. For example, you might consider that you should quit smoking, but it may take some time to move towards preparing for the transition before you are ready actually to quit. For some people, they may decide in a very short time that they wish to stop smoking and move through the next two phases quickly. For those who set New Year’s resolutions, jumping from thought directly into action often isn’t very successful and can leave someone feeling worse than before they started.

What are some alternatives to making resolutions? First of all, allow yourself to just “be you.” You’ve made it this far, and you’ve done well; keep yourself open to embracing what is coming your way. This mindful approach encourages you to be present and in the moment. It doesn’t create a perpetual cycle of inadequacy or failure, which can lead to an intense waste of emotional energy and frustration. You are good enough just as you are. Reflect on your accomplishments throughout the past year. Maybe you got through a really difficult time, or created some amazing memories, and perhaps celebrated some achievements.

Every day can be a new start. Instead of losing ten pounds, you may want to focus on developing some behaviors that will make you healthier (perhaps walking?). Set an intention rather than a resolution. Identify and focus on your personal values. Instead of using the “should” word, play with the “could” word; for example, instead of saying “I should declutter my house today,” say, “I could pack one box to send to Goodwill next week.”

You may also identify something that will improve your relationships with others. Something like, “Today, I will be more understanding and empathic with others,” helps you to connect and be present with other people.

You may find choosing a focus word or a statement useful, such as “understanding.” Many people find happiness by changing their focus to “doing” or “being” rather than “having.” Perhaps you may want to contribute to the well-being of others by volunteering or visiting your elderly neighbour. Changing for the better doesn’t always have to be about you. You can focus your attention on others.

Instead of setting a New Year’s resolution (which you may or may not be able to keep), celebrate your accomplishments from the past year and bring those with you into the New Year. Take each day as it comes and be present and mindful. Identify your values about what is important in your life. Is it spending more time with your children, becoming healthier, or working less? How can you work towards honoring those values each day? By focusing more on embracing the New Year and its potential, you may find yourself much more satisfied and happier with your life.

Karin S. Hitchcock, M. C., CCC

Clinical Supervisor, Therapy and Counselling