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The new calendar year is approaching, and for many this means resolutions! The beginning of a new year often signifies new chances and new opportunities for change and success. For many of us, the process goes something like this: identify a problem or obstacle, set a resolution, plan to stay committed…and then fall of the wagon by March. We’ve all been there! Although change is hard, there are steps we can take to increase success.
Step 1: Pick a Realistic Resolution
With the newfound motivation and energy that often comes with a new year, it can be tempting to set several resolutions spanning a variety of topics. However, doing this can often lead to feeling overwhelmed when trying to balance several goals at once. Choosing one important resolution is a great step in ensuring success. Having one area of focus allows us to devote more quality time and energy toward reaching our goal. Secondly, be realistic. Setting a realistic resolution often sets us up for success in and of itself.
Step 2: Plan
Putting our thoughts onto paper often solidifies them and helps us to stay committed. Write out your goal and make a list of steps you plan to take in order to achieve it. Don’t forget to identify, and write down, a list of potential obstacles as well as what you might do to conquer challenges and overcome barriers. Start with small, realistic steps. For example, if your resolution is to eat healthier, start by finding one thing in each meal that could be changed or substituted for a healthier option, rather than cutting out entire food groups at once. Cross or check off steps as you achieve them in order to reinforce and visualize your progress.
Step 3: Stimulus Control
Although this phrase can sound complicated, it becomes clearer as we break it down. Stimulus, in this context, means “a thing that rouses activity or energy in someone or something; a spur or incentive.” In keeping with our healthy eating habits example listed in step 2, stimuli (plural for stimulus) may take the form of food. I will be the first to admit, I have such a sweet tooth! In order to achieve progress toward a goal to eat healthier, I might avoid the sweets aisle of the grocery store or keep fresh fruit in a bowl on my counter so that it is visible and easily accessible. These are examples of stimulus control, or controlling the environment whenever possible.
Step 4: Positive Affirmations and Encouragement
Remind yourself that you can do it! These reminders can come in many forms and the key is finding what works for you! Positive affirmation cards around your home or office, motivational quotes written in your journal, encouraging pictures and wallpapers on our cell phone and computer, using your voice to remind yourself that you can do it and you are capable, are all examples of affirmations and encouragement!
Step 5: Avoid All or Nothing Thinking
All or nothing thinking goes a little something like this: “well, I slept late so I can’t get in my usual hour of yoga. Might as well just skip it for the day,” instead of considering other options, like a shorter yoga session. All or nothing thinking pushes us into ruling out room for progress altogether instead of being flexible (no pun intended!) and making effort where we can. Instead, chalk it up to a challenging day, regroup, and start fresh.
Step 6: Reward Yourself
Don’t forget to reward yourself for making progress! In order to continue working on your resolution, choose rewards that will not act as triggers or obstacles toward your goal. Treat yourself to a massage or take yourself out to a movie! Allow yourself to sleep in or have a mini shopping spree! It’s all about what works for you and your goal!
Step 7: Remember Change Takes Time
Any change takes time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes a few weeks, or months, to settle into a routine. Forgive yourself if you engage in a behavior that goes against your goal. According to Prochaska and Diclemente’s stages of change model, it takes an average of six months to achieve the change you are seeking. Change is a slow and steady process for everyone. Remind yourself that you can do it.