I absolutely love the New Year. It feels like a clean slate. New Year’s resolutions abound. Wellness memes, articles and tidbits fill up our social media and news feeds. So it got me to thinking: How does a resolution stick? As a therapist, my career is built on helping people make changes, so I can draw upon what I’ve seen in my practice and through my education in mental health and social work. As I’m getting older, I’ve learned a lot from myself too.
In January three years ago I decided to track my daily steps with my brand new Fitbit fitness tracker. I immediately made huge strides in increasing my daily fitness. Several features kept my attention: The tracking and instant feedback were really reinforcing. I loved to see the fireworks image on my phone when I reached step goals. I also found Fitbit’s website nutrition tracker to be really helpful. I could see how many calories I burned versus how many I consumed. It helped me make decisions, like whether or not I could “afford” the calories of a dessert based on my activity level that day. My fitness goal morphed into an overall wellness goal of improving my nutrition.
I connected with friends and family through the app. It allowed me to see how my steps compared with my friends. I became aware of how family members in another state were doing too. If my Dad was sick with a cold, I noticed his steps go way down. If my friend was visiting a great city, I noticed a huge increase in her steps. It was another way to stay in touch. The competitor in me and many of my friends was a great motivator too.
So, was it lasting? Yes and no. I tracked my steps for over a year. I took a break from my Fitbit last year when I was finding my step count a bit depressing while working at a desk job. I also told myself that I knew how much activity I needed to have every day and I would fit it in as well as I could. This summer I left my desk job and got in a routine of walking every day. I used my health app on my iPhone to count steps. That worked well for the summer and fall, but this winter I noticed that my activity level dropped. Morning walks are not as appealing since it’s cold and dark. So I put the Fitbit back in my pocket. I’m recruiting my best friend to get back on the app, as she is super competitive about it. I'm ready to get moving again!
I have found some changes harder for people to implement. My clients and I often work together in therapy on how to get moving on a goal that seems to be hard to kick start. You know how it is. There is something you want to do, but for some reason you don’t do it. For me, it’s writing. Now, obviously, I do write, as this blog demonstrates. The thing is, I want to write more. I’ve had different fiction projects going most of my life. Starting at age 10 I began a pattern of getting a great idea, writing some pretty big chunks, then moving on without completion. At this point, I would be thrilled to finish a novel, whether or not it’s any good.
Here are the ways that we can kick start our goals. I’ll let you know how I do at following my own advice.
State your goal in positive terms, not negative. For example, “I will write at least one page of fiction every day.”
Make your goal small enough to be reasonable, but big enough to demonstrate change. Notice I didn’t set a goal of finishing my novel. I decided to set a very small, reasonable goal of writing one page a day.
Identify emotional blocks. What’s keeping you from it? I suspect that fear of criticism is a factor in my avoidance. Once I let that go, I can feel freer about doing the work.
Make your steps toward your goal measurable and create a system for tracking it. I’m using a pocket calendar in my purse where I’m checking off my goal each day.
Do it for 90-100 days. Change doesn’t become habit without repetition over a long period of time.
Allow yourself some grace and flexibility. If you don’t make it happen today, that’s ok. Know that being kind to yourself will allow you room to grow.
Accountability: Find a buddy, therapist or online forum to hold you accountable. There is an online tool or smartphone app for just about everything you can imagine. Even if you don’t have a friend nearby to help, you can figure out a way to be accountable. For me, writing about this goal in a blog is one method of accountability.
Schedule it! Connect your goal with your daily routine. Put it on the calendar. One client enjoyed putting a date with herself on the calendar to attend an exercise class.
Revisit goals periodically. One writer suggested saving your New Year’s resolutions for the second quarter of the year. I like the idea of checking in on goals at the start of Quarter 2. It’s on my calendar: April 1, 2017 – check in on goals and set new ones. Look for a blog to revisit this topic.
I wish you the best with your New Year’s Goals. I'd love to speak to you if you think you would like some support in making changes happen through therapy.