Leanne Fessler, MA RCC | Article

Resolutions About Resolutions: 10 Tips For Success

Certain times of the year such as New Years and the changing of the seasons, are often full of both reflection and also looking forward. While all of this can be exciting and helpful, it can also take on a life of its own, highlighting an inner conflict common among many of us. In the counselling world, we call this the conflict between the real and the ideal self.

Coined by famed psychologist Carl Rogers, the real self may be considered who you actually are, while the ideal self is who you want to be. The distance between the two seems to be fairly predictive of the amount of satisfaction or despair we experience.

While some people are able to hold onto the simple unattached joy of self-improvement, for many people it is not so easy. There's something about envisioning a new self that seems to tempt us into a comparison that says who we are right now is not quite good enough. Sometimes our thoughts take it further and become dismal predictors of our future. Suddenly, situations like having that super-delicious brownie or getting caught in the same old argument with a family member, come to mean that we'll "never" reach the self that we envision.

This year, I've decided to try something different. Before putting together a list of new goals, or resolutions, I'm beginning by putting together strategies to avoid fallout from "failed" resolutions and close the gap between my real and ideal self. I hope that these will be useful to you now and throughout the year.

After all, a new beginning can happen at any moment.

Resolutions about resolutions: 10 Tips for success

1) Begin with a comprehensive look at your life balance

It's tempting to focus on one or two areas of your life that seem to need adjusting. However, often this can present an incomplete picture of your overall well-being. Before identifying your destination, it’s helpful to have some sort of map of the landscape. Remember, that the landscape of your well-being is made up of many components: work/financial, physical, social, emotional, play, spiritual, personal and intellectual/mental. It is helpful to begin by "taking stock" of each of these areas, along with how much energy and resources you are currently placing in each. What does the overall balance look like?

The tricky part: It is common to forget that changes in one area of your life will affect other areas of your life. Similarly, lack of changes in one area also will impact areas in which you are making changes.

Possible solution: Consider that all machines, biospheres and balanced systems are full of multiple moving, interconnected and adapting parts. Consider how changes in one area can be supported by or limited by changes in another area. For example, if your goal is to improve your mood/emotional well-being, consider how changes in physical activity, social connections and spiritual connection may support this goal.

2) Visualize from the inside-out

You’ve probably heard the good advice recommending that you "visualize" reaching goals/change. Visualization has become very popular over the years and for good reason. It has been known to assist athletes in achieving performance goals and employees in reaching personal growth goals in the workplace. The idea being that the more you can "see" yourself as having met your goals, the greater likelihood the goals/changes will occur.

The tricky part: Perhaps that cut out picture of the supermodel or person with the perfect job on your vision board is a little too much of a stretch. By this I do not necessarily mean unattainable, rather just too far away. Often, people limit visualization to something external that can be "seen." However, looking at that person on that page or in your imagination may not exactly motivate you, but rather focus your attention on obsessing about her/him or that over there. Often when we visualize externally, we come up with a "picture," as though we are looking at our goal "over there." Our tendency is then to compare "that over there" to "me over here."

Possible solution: Instead of visualizing from the outside, feel what it would be like to "embody" that goal using all of your senses. In other words, place yourself in a sort of virtual landscape of that change. Question if your goal is in fact a good fit for you if you tried it on - what it would look like, feel like and be like to apply that change to you in your life? You may begin to realize that a small change can actually feel quite big. Or, a big change may not in fact help you to achieve what your goal intends.

3) Be aware of your level of "readiness"

You've probably run into someone else, or perhaps been the person who replies "ya but..." to every suggestion for change made. If this seems to be something you find yourself saying a lot, it may be helpful to consider your stage of readiness to make that change or attain that goal.

A lot goes into creating optimal readiness. Who the change is for (is it really for you?), who will be affected by the change, how the change may create shifts in other parts of your life, quality of access to supports, quality of closure in relevant areas impacting this change/goal - are all just a few contributing factors.

The tricky part: Sometimes it is also too easy to evade/avoid change by determining that you are "not ready." Deciding you are not ready to make a certain change or set a certain goal doesn't mean that you are not ready to take any steps toward this change.

Possible solution: Consider that readiness falls along a scale rather than you "have it" or you don't. For each point in the scale, there are a set of steps you can take toward that change/goal. Perhaps this means simply getting more objective information, or maybe it means learning more about what is involved in making such a change. Suddenly, you may find new, smaller goals emerge that are more appropriate for you at this time.

4) Break it down ....yes, even further down

As mentioned above, goals for change have a funny way of starting much too big and often need to be broken down into steps and short-term goals that are more manageable. Many people are helped by using the SMART goals format – a format I recommend when creating goals for change.

The tricky part: You think that you have broken your goals down, but you're still finding yourself experiencing a great deal of frustration meeting your mini-goals.

Possible solution: Break it down even further. Repetitive, I know. Ask trusted others how they may continue to break the goal down into smaller pieces. Then stop and ask yourself, "Have I done all I can to problem-solve?" If yes, than perhaps the wisdom (and the challenge) is then learning the difference between taking necessary action steps versus taking necessary nurture steps, meaning taking care of your emotional well-being. Change is frought with emotions that need to be taken good care of by providing yourself healthy outlets and support.

5) Develop a team of support

It is important to have other people, places or activities that can support your efforts to make changes and reach your goals. Thinking about your goals, ask yourself what kind of support you need to realize these goals. Do you need very logistical support, like someone to free up your time by picking up on an extra household duty one day in exchange for a return favour? Do you need a place you can go where nothing is expected from you when you are feeling overwhelmed by your own expectations? Do you need an activity before bed that helps you to wind down from all of the excitement and anticipation of making these changes?

The tricky part: Knowing what to ask for and where, from whom to ask for it. Sometimes, the support you want from certain people in your life is not the kind of support they will be able to provide you.

Possible solution: You may have a conversation with significant others in your life about ways in which you'd like their support and allow them to tell you what kind of support they are able to provide. If you can't find an appropriate person to be an emotional outlet, perhaps an expressive activity or nurturing place can help with this. Perhaps a special place will be really great at giving you some relaxation but it can't give you the motivation that someone in your life can. Asking for what you need from people/places that can support you will contribute to a sense of accomplishment.

More Tips …

6) Realize your limits

No one's energy is limitless. You may be good at noticing when negative stressful events are taxing your energy, but are you aware of positive stressors that are taxing your energy? Even though working toward a goal may be exciting and rewarding, it can also bring positive stress which still requires your energy. You may get so excited and motivated that you forget that you still need breaks and downtime. To get energy for one area of your life requires balancing energy with the other areas to maintain balance.

7) Beware of old patterns limiting new ones

All the changes in the world can happen but none will be sustainable if you aren't aware of the "lens" through which you may be viewing your efforts, yourself, the world and others. Beware of typical unhelpful thinking patterns that can make even the most successful change processes seem like complete failures. Some of these may involve thoughts that are rigid or "black-and-white" ("If I haven't succeeded I've failed"), judgmental ("I'm just lazy"), catastrophizing ("I'll never, they'll always"), overgeneralizing ("everyone, " "everything"), shoulds ("I should know this "), emotional reasoning ("I feel bad that means it must be bad"), etc.

8) Be patient with yourself: Change is a process, not an event

You likely remember significant events in your life that are markers of particular changes, such as moving to high school, graduation ,or your first job. But how often do you recognize the months or years leading up to these "changes"? Reduce your frustration and increase your sense of accomplishment by reminding yourself that change is something that occurs over time, has necessary stages and often less glorified than those event moments that signify the overall change.

9) Take a point from Pavlov

You've probably heard the story of Pavlov's dogs and know that behaviour can be conditioned/reinforced by rewards or positive consequences. In short, when working towards your goals it’s important to plan for some rewards. You're working hard and in order to sustain your efforts, positive associations need to be attached to your goals. Even more important, is to consider those rewards that are not just external (e.g. buying yourself something), but also internal. Pay particular attention to how it feels to be aligning yourself to a goal or change that fits with the values that you've chosen to guide your life. Enjoying the additional meaning that this brings to your life can feel very replenishing.

10) This is your story - you are the protagonist

Taking full ownership of your life, your thoughts, your behaviour, your changes and yourself is not always easy. It can be very easy to be influenced, swayed, or diverted by events or significant people in our lives. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however be aware of it and how you may be allowing people or events to be in charge of your changes. Unknowingly, we sometimes give up the responsibility for our own lives and decisions because it can be quite scary. It can also be equally rewarding. If this is your story, how do you choose to write it?