January 1st…..the start of a New Year, and the inevitable question: “What are your New Years’ Resolutions?” I hate that question – my mind fills up with worries. “Will I say the right things, the smart things, will you be impressed, will I stick to my resolution or fail, publicly, now that others know what it is?” Too much pressure. I’ve never stuck to resolutions in the past, so please don’t ask me! Unless you ask me about this one, cause it’s the only one I make now: I resolve to continue living my life treating the people that matter as though they matter, and doing what matters to me, no matter what thoughts and feelings show up.
Today was cold, and I wanted to stay home and watch TV. My dog, however, wanted to go for a walk, a very long walk. My dog matters to me, so we both put on our boots (yes, she wears boots, and it’s cute) and I put aside my frustration and fatigue, and off we went into what seemed like a cold, blustery, miserable outdoors. Within minutes I was smiling and content, dogs are great people – I’m sure cats are too, however I am allergic to cats, so I’m a dog person – and suddenly the cold, windy, snowy day became magical. It became even better when the recall command I’d been practicing with my pooch worked, and she did not eat the dead, frozen possum just out of view of this picture!
So why don’t we keep our resolutions? There are lots of things that can get in our way. Often, we make resolutions that just aren’t realistic, such as going to the gym everyday – do you even like the gym – do you like exercise? Aiming to do things 100% of the time is often a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes we make resolutions that don’t fit with our sense of who we are. If you believe, for example, that you are unworthy, you aren’t likely to do things that a worthy person would do, such as take better care of yourself.
For others, we make resolutions hoping they will provide some magical motivation to do things on our procrastination list: exercising more, managing school work better, or changing eating habits. Yet the question remains, once we are eating ‘better’ and exercising more, then what do we want life to be about? The answer to this might provide the motivation you are looking for.
Keeping resolutions means changing your behavior. Consider these simple ideas for behavior change:
- Choose an area of your life that you want to make changes in, perhaps your romantic life, your friendships, school life, or your health.
- Think about the person you want to be, on the inside, in this area of your life. What are your values? These are the qualities we take with us and can choose to live by, regardless of where we end up. Acting according to our values can be highly motivating. You might value, for example, being a determined and responsible student, and you can certainly approach your homework this way. You may not know the exact outcome weeks or months from now, yet you can choose to act on these qualities every day. Doing so will give you the best chance of achieving the marks you want, even though it’s not guaranteed. There are other things that can impact the outcome of your efforts, such as being sick, getting into a fight with a friend the night before your exam, teachers putting questions on a test that you weren’t prepared for…etc etc.
- Identify a specific change that you want to make that is consistent with your values. This could be something you want to change in the next few hours, days, or months. Think of it this way, if someone was watching you and they saw you doing your new behavior, what would they see you do? If you can’t answer this, your idea might not be specific enough or is not a ‘behavior.’ For example, I don’t know what ‘being a better student” looks like, but I would know if you went to school every day.
- Intentionally head into each day with your values in mind, and try to take some steps towards the behavior change you want to make. You can set long-term goals and shorter ones. Consider starting with goals to cover the next few days. Then add in some goals for the next few weeks or months.
- Once you get going, add in more goals as you want to.
This entire process is likely going to take out of your comfort zone and it’s worth it! Ask yourself this question: “How much you are really living and experiencing life when you stay comfortable, when there is no anxiety, no sadness, and no stress?” Change tends to happen when we push our boundaries. This doesn’t mean you will feel happy 24/7, no one does….it means you have a chance to feel more alive and fulfilled, with all the emotions that come with it.
If moving out of your comfort zone is tough, take little steps, one at a time. If it’s really tough, talk to your parents or trusted adult and ask for some help. Keep an eye on my ‘What’s New” tab for upcoming group therapy sessions and self help book!