By Judy K. Underwood, Ph.D.
2008 was a year that zapped many of us out of our comfort zones and made us question our regular habits. Now, the New Year’s resolution band is marching into our lives and inviting us to make changes.
Major goals for many Americans are to lose weight, quit smoking and spend less. We want to improve our looks, health and pocketbook. According to Alan Deutschman, author of “Change or Die,” Most people think “we can change our lives if we just summon the willpower and try even harder this time around.” He discusses how hard it is to make life changes. According to the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, 40 percent of Americans who made resolutions last year admitted that they did not keep them. Very few people are aware of their self-sabotaging behavior.
Consider this. When you tell yourself: “Don’t eat the chocolate cake in the refrigerator,” you might notice the feelings that come into your mind focus instantly on wanting that thing that you are denying yourself. Temptation and a feeling of deprivation follow when you avoid eating the cake. Or, you eat the cake and feel guilty. Both outcomes lead to unpleasant feelings and discouragement.
Another example is: “Don’t smoke that cigarette.” Again, the mind pops up a picture of a cigarette followed by the urge to smoke.
When you tell yourself what not to do, the mind creates a picture of the cake or cigarette, which is paired with the urge to eat or smoke. You will be more successful if you talk about what you want – not what you don’t want. Here are three recommendations that will help you do this.
- Imagine that you have already achieved the benefit of your desired change. Say to yourself: “I am attractive with my thinner body” or “I am enjoying the freedom of my smoke-free life.” Make a picture in your mind of your future self who has achieved success. Also, choose to be with people who are role models for the change you are seeking.
- Divide large goals into smaller, manageable goals. For example, if your resolution is to lose 20 pounds over the next 10 months, think about losing two pounds each month. Weigh yourself regularly so you know if the changes you’re making are getting the desired results. If not, make more changes.
- Treat yourself kindly and gently. Reward yourself with praise when you achieve a goal – no matter how small. When you don’t achieve your goal, think of it as a signal that you need to change something. There is no such thing as failure. There is only success or feedback that lets you know to make another change. Criticality is your worst enemy because it makes you feel discouraged and want to give up. Watch carefully for negative self-talk, and nip it in the bud.
The goal is progress – not perfection. Make 2009 a wonderful year. You can do it!
Judy K. Underwood, Ph.D. is a Fort Collins psychotherapist, life coach, speaker and author. She is the author of “Dying: Finding Comfort and Guidance in a Story of a Peaceful Passing.” She can be reached at DrUnderwood@passingpeacefully.com or 970-221-0581. Visit her website www.passingpeacefully.com.