By Dr. Sadie Phillips, reflect’s head of therapy
2016 was rough for many reasons: an ugly and divisive political election in the US, Brexit, increased instability around the world, and the passing of some iconic stars including David Bowie, Prince, Nancy Reagan, Alan Thicke and in the last couple of weeks Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, and mother/daughter Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (within a day of each other). And that’s not even the full list.
In trying to make sense of the past year, I keep coming back to one of my favorite quotes:
I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.
It serves as a reminder we have autonomy despite all the chaos and that there is power in focusing instead on how we can change ourselves for the better. The disappointments of 2016, albeit them painful in many ways, have fueled my drive to make 2017 my best year yet.
Every January, I encourage my clients to reflect on what they want to accomplish this year -- not because we all shouldn’t be always improving but because this time of year can feel like a fresh start. New Year’s (like birthdays) can be a great benchmark for goal setting as it comes around the same time annually.
According to University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology, those who explicitly make resolutions are 10x more likely to attain their goals than people who don't.
As you define your goals for the coming year, here are 3 nuggets of wisdom I hope you’ll keep in mind:
THINK ABOUT YOUR INNER SELF, NOT JUST YOUR OUTER SELF
With the gluttony of the holidays behind us, many of us use the new year as a time to start diets. Weight loss is the #1 most common New Year’s resolution, with 38% of people making weight-related goals.
It’s a great idea to focus on our health and make changes to remove food bad habits from our lives. Just make sure you’re setting realistic health goals that work.
I also encourage you to think about more than what’s skin deep. Resolutions that make the longest and most meaningful impact are the ones that improve our mental health. And it’s hard to change our physical selves until we can commit to changing our inner selves.
Are there any bad mental habits you want to break? For some, it might be things like being too hard on yourself for perceived shortcomings or being short-tempered with a colleague at work. Or are there things you wish you did more of in your life like meditate, practice gratitude, or vocalize support for those close to you?
We don’t know what 2017 will bring, but if we are able to make changes to set ourselves up mentally, we’ll be stronger and more able to deal with the ups and the downs that may come.
START WITH SMALL GOALS
Here’s a telling statistic: 80% of new year’s resolutions are unsuccessful, with 30% failing by February.
While resolutions are all set with the best of intentions, the truth is they’re not all created equality. Willpower and a strong support network are key to improving your chances, but there’s also a lot you can do to set yourself up for success right from the beginning.
Change is often hardest because it feels so overwhelming that we don’t know where to start… so we just don’t.
For your 2017 goals, think about the small steps -- instead of saying you want to lose 20 pounds, start by eating healthier, exercising, and setting a goal of 1 pound per week. As opposed to trying to be a better husband, set the goal of genuinely complimenting your wife one day a week.
Soon the small steps become easy, so we're able to take bigger steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your six-pack or meditation habit.
DEFINE HOW... AND BE SPECIFIC
We’re often pretty good at setting goals, but in addition to making them too big, we often get lost in how to achieve them. I hate my job, but finding my passion in life seems daunting. I want to find love, but I don’t know where to start.
The key to making progress with any change is to define specific steps you can and will take. It also gives you something to hold yourself accountable on.
If want to lose weight, pledge to cut dessert twice a week or go for a 15 minute walk three times a week. If your goal is to find love, sign up for a dating site and pledge to message two new girls each week in January. If you want to start meditating, download a mindfulness app and try it for the next 5 days.
By biting off small pieces and being concrete, the change we seek doesn’t feel so big. And as a result, we feel more ok and even empowered taking steps to improve our lives.
Setting your goals is half the battle, but how you go about them can make all the difference to setting yourself up for success.
First, write your goals down, maybe in a journal or on sticky notes you can place by your computer monitor or mirror. The act of writing something down and seeing it in front of us does a lot to trick our brains into thinking it’s more real. And it serves as a reminder to hold ourselves accountable.
Speaking of accountability, your chances of success increase substantially when you tell a loved one about your resolutions and ask for help. It’s harder to skip a run if you know your girlfriend will call you out. Even better, find resolutions you can do together -- like learning a new hobby or start yoga.
For my clients, I often help with this accountability. Because we see each other weekly, it’s an easy space to discuss what the client wants to accomplish, how they’re progressing, and what challenges they might be facing. There’s a misconceived notion out there that therapists are people you cry to or talk about childhood issues with. On the contrary, we can often be a great sounding board to help you understand yourself better, set goals, and keep track of how you’re progressing.
If you’re interested in talking to a therapist to help you with your 2017 resolutions or anything else you might be looking to change in your life, I encourage you to click below and let reflect help you find your right match.
Regardless of what you choose for yourself, I wish you the best of luck in achieving your goals and making 2017 your best year yet.
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