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Resolutions are not just for the New Year

It is the start of a new year and many see this as a chance to bring a fresh energy to their goals in life.  There is something very appealing about imagining one can just shrug off the previous year’s experiences and replace with a new and better existence in the coming months.  This can be possible if you follow a few principles.

Think about the things you value

Take the time to write a list of the things that you value in life.  This might help you to find where there might be something you’d like to address.  For example, you could list both your career and your family as things you value but feel that there is an imbalance.  It might be that you are working too late, or you’ve become aware that when you are away from your job you are going over the working day rather than fully engaging with home life.  You can organise your values into different life areas like your environment (e.g. “I like a tidy clean house”), education/employment/leisure (e.g. “I value having hobbies to do in my spare time”), relationships (e.g. “It’s important to spend time with my friends”), mind and body (e.g. “I need a healthy sleep pattern”).

Have a clear goal with realistic targets

A new year resolution can be understood as a goal that if achieved is likely to give you a better quality of life.  The goals you decide to pursue should flow from your list of values.  For instance, if you value spending time with friends you could set a goal of meeting up at least once per month across the whole year.  Some goals don’t get off the ground purely because they lack a level of specificity that would make them achievable.  For instance, rather than say “I want to get fit”, you could say that “by the mid-point of the year I’d like to be exercising for at least thirty minutes a minimum of three times per week”.  Think about what steps that would involve and avoid trying to get to the end-point too quickly.  If it works for you then devise a timetable which incrementally increases the workout.

Remind yourself about previous successes

There might have been times in the previous year where you have been able to achieve some success in the areas you are trying to work on.  Think about what you did in these instances.  Try to establish what barriers you overcame and how you did it.  Don’t disregard small success.  For example, if you took up a hobby which you weren’t ultimately able to sustain you could look at what helped you take it up in the first place.  What self-talk did you use?  Were there practical steps that you took with confidence?  Did you manage interfering thoughts that might have otherwise prevented you from initiating it?  These examples of success are things that you can build on in relation to your current goals.

Get back on the horse

People often resolve to kick a bad habit at the start of a new year.  This can be something that they set out to do with high hopes and it can be difficult to cope when there are lapses.  There are two key messages here:

Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Think about how long you have been engaging in this habit and how familiar it is.  It is difficult to change something that has been part of your life for a long time and typically it takes at least three months to learn new and different ways of behaving.  Relapses are common and are a normal part of the process.  If you are overly critical or hopeless about a moment of ‘giving in’ to an old pattern then you make it more likely that you will continue to revert to the habit you are trying to change.

Don’t write your resolution off.  If you’ve had a ‘blip’ see it as just that.  It is not a catastrophe, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed and you are not back where you started.  Take this moment to work out what led to the glitch and what might be maintaining it at present.  Think about what types of thoughts or emotional responses make it more likely that you will return to old routines and see if it is possible to come up with alternative solutions.

Some people value the input of a therapist to help them make changes to their life.  This is a process that can be used to help define values/goals, to adopt different patterns of behaving and to iron out factors that are interfering with lasting change.  There are a variety of approaches that can help here including solution-focussed therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness based therapy and Schema therapy.  It is worth deciding whether pursuing your new year resolutions might be easier with the benefit of a collaborator.