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SALT LAKE CITY — This is the time of year when many people make resolutions/goals to implement new behaviors, to eliminate old behaviors and to change life circumstances or relationships.
Regardless of the specifics, the thing resolutions have in common is that they are meant to improve the quality of one’s life and/or relationships.
Initially, we get excited and motivated to fully engage our resolutions. It is common for us to hit the ground running at the beginning of the year, full of excitement and determination that this resolution will be life changing and lasting. We vow that this is it: we are going to lose weight, become more active, save money and pay off bills, pay attention to our partner and make the relationship better, etc.
Then life happens. We get busy, overloaded and overwhelmed. We start to slack on the goals we were so excited about initially. This is usually a gradual process that begins with skipping one workout/not following through with a dinner date with our partner/skimping on time we have set aside for ourselves or spending money we meant to deposit in the savings account. Slowly our good intentions fade into the background and we end up where we started, sometimes with additional self-contempt or criticism for, once again, not succeeding in the resolutions we set for ourselves.
This is extremely common. In fact, one study by the University of Scranton found that only 8 percent of people who set resolutions are successful in sticking with them. The good news is that this does not have to be the case. There are many reasons why resolutions fail and there are ways that we can learn from these failures and create new goals that are attainable.
Evaluate how attainable your goals are
Sometimes resolutions fail because they aren’t realistic or attainable. “I am going to go to the gym every day for two hours” is probably not realistic for a person who also works full-time and has other obligations. A goal like this can quickly become overwhelming. Being aware of what is realistic for your life is important to achieving the goal, as well as to your emotional well-being. A resolution should not compromise your sanity or the balance in your life.
One bite at a time
There is a wonderful rhetorical question: “How do you eat an elephant?” Now, although I do not condone the eating of elephants, the concept of this question has a lot of value. Often when we set a goal, we want to achieve it right now. We want to have mastered all it takes to achieve and maintain progress, but this is not realistic. We don’t get good at something all at once just because we decide we want it. We also do not achieve mastery of behavior and life change without some degree of struggle (which is part of learning). The bottom line is that goals take time to achieve. If you really want your behavior and life changes to last, take your time and take small steps. Mastering the small steps and then adding to them over time is much less overwhelming and makes it much more likely that we will stick to the goals. This is also how we actually get good at something new and make it into a habit or second nature.
Falling down can be discouraging, but one of the lessons we learn from falling down is what doesn't work. Learning what doesn't work is extremely valuable in finding success as it helps us to move on and try new ways of doing things. We will never find the "right way" of doing something unless we are willing to "fail," sometimes multiple times.
Some of us think in extremes. The moment some obstacle gets in the way of our progress, we get discouraged and want to give up. The fact is, if we are not willing to realize that life is going to happen and plans are going to be disrupted, we are setting ourselves up for failure from the beginning. Expect setbacks. Making them a part of your plan for achieving your goals and embracing them as setbacks can be great teachers in learning patience for ourselves and life in general.
Get back up if you fall down (and you will fall down from time to time)
Expanding on the point above, this is one of life’s greatest lessons that we often learn early on as babies learning how to walk. Falling down can be discouraging, but one of the lessons we learn from falling down is what doesn’t work. Learning what doesn’t work is extremely valuable in finding success as it helps us to move on and try new ways of doing things. We will never find the “right way” of doing something unless we are willing to “fail,” sometimes multiple times. Instead of getting discouraged, it is much more productive to accept and appreciate the lesson learned and to then try something different.
Don’t go it alone
There are several misconceptions about therapy. One of the biggest is that therapy is only for someone who is struggling with mental illness or some major life issue. The fact is we can all benefit from therapy. One of the most underutilized benefits of therapy is performance enhancement. A therapist can help us identify how attainable a goal is and to then utilize therapeutic interventions (such as behavioral rehearsal or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) to enhance performance and decrease any discomfort or doubt about our ability to achieve the goals we have set.
Goal setting can and should happen regardless of the time of year. Following through with goals should be seen as an ever-evolving process of trial and error and, most importantly, a process of learning and growth.
Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC, is a psychotherapist and clinical director at Life Stone Counseling Centers. Learn more about her by visiting lifestonecenter.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.