Welcome to 2011! Time to usher in a new year and a new you by reflecting on the changes you want (or need) to make in your life. A New Year’s resolution is your commitment to change a behavior or lifestyle. So, think about the part of your life that you want to change the most. Maybe it’s smoking or biting your nails; not visiting your parents often enough; thighs you wish were smaller; your chocolate cravings; or your love life or lack thereof.
This year will be different. You will make your resolution a mission. You can see yourself in your skinny jeans – this year you’re going to do it! Piece of cake, right? Wrong. Statistics reveal that 90 percent of us fail to achieve our goals, and roughly 75 percent fail within the first week of the New Year and almost all by Valentine’s Day. What the heck is going on?
I spoke with Krystal Stober, PsyD, a clinical psychologist within Jefferson’s Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, to get some insight. According to Dr. Stober, “the beginning of a New Year is such an inspirational time for all of us; a time for a clean slate or a chance to hit the restart button. With this hopefulness we experience a surge in motivation, which is a great way to start the change process. However, we need to learn skills in order to nurture and maintain that motivation for the long-haul.”
That all sounds good, but I wanted to know how a person can stay motivated to achieve their goals. Dr. Stober explains that “our motivation ebbs and flows over time; it’s not an all-or-none state. Either you’re motivated or you’re not. So although you may set your sights on a goal and feel completely dedicated at this point, expect ambivalence, difficulties and setbacks and treat them as learning experiences.”
In other words, expect the best but prepare for the worst! But sometimes, changing your behavior requires the help of others. Think about how hard it can be to quit smoking. You’re not just changing behavior; you’re also trying to wean your body from nicotine, which is highly addictive. Willpower alone may not be enough. The same goes for alcohol: If you feel alcohol is dominating your life, there may be deeper issues involved that require professional counseling and a very strong commitment to change.
“Often, people need to remind themselves of what the big picture is,” Dr. Stober says. “For instance, losing weight ultimately is not about being able to fit into skinny jeans or those pants from when we were 20 years old; it’s about learning to care for our bodies so that we can live long, healthy lives.”
That’s so true! We all have our own internal dialogue that runs through our head while we’re deciding whether to order the cheesecake for dessert or finding reasons why we can’t go to the gym today. Do any of these sound familiar?
If only I had more time; if only I had more money;
if only I didn’t have the kids; if only I were younger;
I just don’t have the energy right now; I’ll indulge today and start tomorrow.
Stages of Change
In the psychology world, the gradual process of change is known as the “Stages of Change Model.” A five-step model, it has been applied to a broad range of behaviors, including overeating, smoking and drinking heavily. The stages of change are:
- Precontemplation – being uninterested or unwilling to make a change
- Contemplation – considering a change
- Preparation/Determination – deciding and preparing to make a change
- Action/Willpower – actually making a change
- Maintenance – sticking to your new behavior
Understanding your readiness to change by familiarizing yourself with this model can help you progress through the different stages of change – and at your own pace. Make a realistic plan and put that plan into action.
Ways to Work Through Your Resolution
In Dr. Stober’s experience of working with people who struggle to make life changes, she believes that learning a few skills and utilizing resources can help you make sustainable changes. Here are her 5 tips for sticking to your resolution:
- Examine what is important in your life and why you want change. Ask yourself: Am I hoping to model a healthier lifestyle for my children? Do I want to avoid falling prey to the same heart condition my father and grandfather had? It’s okay to aim for looking good in the New Year, but remember to think big picture as well.
- Set small, realistic goals and have reasonable ways of measuring those goals. Remind yourself that change is a slow process and does not happen overnight. If you move forward with your goal and then plateau, allow yourself some time to just maintain status quo and not fall back into old behaviors. Setbacks are not a sign of failure; they are opportunities to learn.
- Don’t let that tricky voice in the back of your head talk you into not following through with your plans. We’re great at making exceptions or assuring ourselves we’ll start later. You may not feel motivated to do what it is you aspire to do, and you may want to fall back on the comfort of engaging in the old behavior. Give yourself a pep talk and then buckle down and do it. The people in your life can either help or hurt your motivation, so enlist them from the beginning in helping you to make changes. Let them know how they can help, how they can interfere and how they can respond when they see you struggle.
- Don’t impulsively decide to choose the old behavior. Instead, set a timer and give yourself 10 minutes to consider your decisions. Many times you will fall back into old ways in the heat of the moment, and then feel regret soon after. Give yourself a chance to weigh the pros and cons before acting.
- Have faith in yourself. It sounds a bit silly, but if you talk negatively to yourself, have low expectations for yourself and judge yourself, you won’t get far with any of your goals. Research repeatedly has shown that if you expect the worse from yourself, you’ll get just that.
Remember: Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a therapist if you find yourself continually struggling with the same goals year after year. Sometimes we use unhealthy behaviors as a way of coping with negative feelings. Having the chance to vent our feelings, get support and find new ways of living can often be accomplished with brief therapy.
To schedule an appointment with a Jefferson psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist, please call 1-800-JEFF-NOW.