By Ankur Desai, MD
With a new year in full swing, it is often a perfect time for introspection on our lives, and we find ourselves motivated to make significant changes with the goal of making ourselves better, more successful people. These changes can vary widely, from changing our image physically, to thinking about how to succeed in our careers or personal lives, to how we can make ourselves “better” people in regard to values, character, or personality.
The bottom line is that although the motivation to make these impactful changes is admirable and comes from a positive space in our heart and minds, following through and maintaining substantial changes in lifestyle and personal character takes hard work, dedication, and discipline.
To help improve your chances of making big resolutions stick, and stick for good, and to get back on track if you fall off course, I suggest these three simple strategies:
- Keep it simple
The chances of successfully making a change increase if you start with a smaller, realistic goals and establish benchmarks with associated rewards and validations along the way.
The classic New Year resolution is getting in shape or losing weight. Depending on how much weight you are trying to lose, this goal can be overwhelming if you look at it all as one big number. For example, my brother wants to lose as much as his 4-year-old son weighs, which is 36 pounds. This is a significant amount of weight and I admire his drive and motivation.
My proposed strategy is to break up the year into four quarters and divide up the total number of pounds you would like to lose by each quarter. For a 36-pound weight loss overall goal, strive to lose 9 pounds every three months. This is a more digestible, realistic goal. The good thing is if you implement successful strategies in the beginning of the year and you hit the goal after the first three months, you are well on your way to continuing to meet your goal for the next three months.
What happens if you fall off track or don’t hit your goal? This is not a loss in any way, shape, or form. Focus on what went right and what worked, and what did not. Ask yourself if the goal is realistic or needs to be reevaluated? A goal needing to be re-adjusted is not a failure if there is a positive trend towards improvement or achieving the goal. You do have to go through the mental exercise of self-evaluation and determine what worked and what didn’t. Both are going to be equally important to know and understand for long-term success.
Be Visual and Objective
Many people are focused on self-improvement, and the start of a new year is a great opportunity to set a goal for personal growth and development. An example is improving relationships with family and friends, or maintaining a more positive outlook towards daily life, or even practicing and effectively implementing strategies to manage anxiety and stress.
These resolutions are difficult to measure. However, what I suggest is developing visual or objective aides and measures to help you remember your ultimate goal. Think about setting up specific deadlines to make connections with people that you want to reconnect with or improve your relationship. For example, write down the relationships you want to focus on, and on your calendar mark the deadline to contact those people.
If making the change to have a more positive outlook is your goal, consider keeping a journal and writing down the times each week where you caught yourself thinking negatively or being doubtful, and how you were able to reframe your thinking into a more positive slant. The more you are able to visually track these instances, the more mindful you will become about thinking positively. After time, the more frequently you implement the change to positive thinking, it will become a natural, unconscious process.
What happens if you don’t reach your goal? Again, don’t think of any shortcomings in the process as a loss. Focus on what you were able to do and stick to, and what ended up being too much to write down or practice. Once you understand what was above and beyond your scope, you can establish where to start in terms of positive progress. Re-adjust your goal to increase your chances of meeting your set deadline and timeframes. Even small improvements can lead to significant changes in personal growth and development over time. Remember that a larger goal has to be broken down into smaller, measurable goals that can be set on a weekly or monthly basis.
Be Practical and Practice Assertiveness
At the beginning of a new year, some of us have the opportunity to reflect on our careers. Annual self-appraisals and performance reviews that are embedded into our work culture often train us to think about it. We often ask ourselves, “What’s the next step in advancing my career?” or “How do I work my way up and potentially earn a bigger paycheck?” The truth of the matter is, this goal may be too abstract or unachievable because of personal circumstances, including geographical constraints, limitations in experience and qualifications, or commitments to family and household responsibilities.
I suggest thinking about the circumstances that limit you, and develop a strategy to address each limitation. For example, if it’s experience and qualifications that you’re missing, create a specific plan to get them. Set deadlines for speaking with mentors and colleagues about career advancement. If family-related factors limit your career advancement, schedule time to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your partner.
Finally, if the limiting factor is approaching the topic with your boss, schedule a meeting with him/her to discuss a promotion. Write down talking points that you want discuss. Practice or “role play” what you would say in the meeting, including your strengths and abilities.
What happens if you don’t obtain this goal? Perhaps you didn’t make the deadlines you set for yourself or the meeting with your spouse or boss didn’t go the way you intended. Keep in mind that this may have been the first time you approached these goals, but it doesn’t have to be the last. The more you get into the practice of thinking practically, setting timeframes and deadlines, and asserting yourself effectively with authority figures, the better you are going to get at doing it. Practice makes perfect.
Ankur Desai, MD, is a board-certified adolescent psychiatrist on staff at CentraState Medical Center and can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.