Reprinted with permission from 50Plus

The only problem with New Year’s resolutions is that, despite our best intentions, it can be difficult to stick to them throughout the year. Here are 10 ways to achieve and maintain your resolutions:

Why do you want to make this change?

Write out a list of all the reasons why you want to make this change. Include as many as you can. For example, if your goal is weight loss, then some of the items on your life may include:

• Improve my health

• Be a good role model for my children/grandchildren

• Live longer

• Improve my self-confidence

• Reduce aches and pains

• Increased energy so that I can __________

• Improve sleep

• Prevent diabetes and heart disease

• Reduce risk for cancer

• Improved relationships

• Increase my sense of adventure

• A way to tell my loved ones I care about them because I am taking care of my health

• If I exercise as a way to lose weight, that reduces stress and depression and helps improve my mood.

What is good about the way things are now?

There is a reason (and probably more than one) that you continue to act the way you do. It is vital that you identify what is good about your habit.

Many clients look at me like I am crazy when I ask questions like “What is good about smoking?” No one has ever asked them that question. And yet, it is vital that we figure out what is pulling them to continue to smoke. If we don’t identify and address these benefits, we will never be able to sustain change.

So, write out all that is good — in your mind — about your habit. For example, one of my clients who wanted to quit smoking identified the following “benefits” of smoking:

• Smoking helps me relax.

• It is something that I do with my friends.

• I am afraid I will gain weight if I stop, so I guess smoking helps me not gain weight.

• I like to smoke when I am bored.

• Smoking helps break up long drives.

• At work, my cigarette breaks are sometimes the only time during the day when I get some peace.

Look at all those reasons this client liked to smoke. If she didn’t address them, it is very unlikely that she would be able to stop.

What are your obstacles and how can you overcome them?

Obstacles may include any benefits that you get form doing this act (see your list from #2) as well as people, past “failures,” fears, people, experiences that you perceive are keeping you from achieving your goal. (See Why New Year’s resolutions fail.)

For example, some often-sited obstacles to exercising are:

• I have no time.

• I don’t like gyms.

• It hurts when I run.

• Exercise is boring.

Any of these sound familiar?

Well, guess what? These are what I call “plastic” obstacles because they are, in fact, changeable.

“No way”, you may say. “I have tried so hard in the past and just couldn’t do it.”

Try asking yourself the $10 million dollar question: If you were guaranteed to receive $10 million IF you exercised three times a week for 30 minutes for 6 months, could you do it ?

If you answer yes (or any variation of affirmation), then the obstacles you have are plastic. This is not to say that overcoming the obstacles and making the changes are easy. But they are possible.

So look at each obstacle and figure out ways to overcome them. Let’s take the ever-present obstacle of “I have no time.”

Research shows that working out for three 10-minute periods is as effective as working out continuously for 30 minutes (and may even result in greater health benefits).

So, try this:

• Wake up just 10 minutes earlier in the morning and go for a 10-minute walk. I know you like to sleep — me too. But 10 minutes is not going to be a huge deal.

• At lunchtime, go for a walk for 10 minutes.

• In the evening, before dinner, do another 10 minute walk.

If you really implement the above plan, you will find it is easily doable.

Write out your commitment.

Research shows that when we write out our goals, we are much for likely to achieve them. Write out your goal(s) and read them over every day at least twice: first thing in the morning and at night before bed.

Reading your goal(s) over in the morning will help keep your goal at the forefront of your mind and encourage you to prioritize and focus on that goal throughout the day.

Reviewing your goal at night helps your brain to work on that goal unconsciously as you sleep

Visualize success.

Our brains have a picture of who we are, which helps guide our feelings and behaviors.

To help illustrate, consider something called phantom limb pain. Phantom limb pain refers to the continued sensation of a physical affliction in a limb after it has been removed. So, someone with a neuropathy in his or her leg, for example, who has had their leg amputated, would still feel the pain. Not only that, but they might try to get up and walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night without their crutches, thinking their limb is still there.

What causes phantom limb pain? Scientists think it has to do with our brains, which continue to have this painful limb represented as an attachment to the body.

How does this apply to us? It appears that our brains also have a images of other aspects of us, too, such as our size. So, if your brain “sees” you as overweight, then even if you lose pounds, you will eventually gain it back.

The good news is that we can change our brain using visualization. Close your eyes and picture yourself having achieved you goal: being smoke-free, losing weight, interacting with your loved ones in a stress-free and calm manner… Don’t worry about how you did it right now. Just imagine that you have.

Now focus on this experience. How do you feel? What kinds of things are you saying to yourself? What are others saying to you? What do you see- people smiling and clapping for you? Use all your senses to really experience what it will be like to achieve and sustain your goals.

Our brain does not decipher from real life or imagined. As a result, visualization will help train your brain to see, and then achieve.

Get help from friends.

Rome was not built in a day — nor was it constructed by one person. Reach out to get the support you need.

Tell the people in your life what your goal is and how they can help you. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, ask friends not to bring you any sweets over to your home. Enlist some friends to go walking with you. Find an accountability partner to whom you report your progress.

You may also want to seek assistance outside of your current network. Support groups, online social networks and even professional help may be instrumental in assisting you with your goal. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. If you are having trouble, go back to #1 to review why this is so important.

Change your environment.

When in Rome… (Just keeping with this Italian theme).

If you are trying to lose weight, then it is probably best not to hang out in the donut shop. If you goal is to limit your alcohol intake, then being with your drinking buddies may not be helpful.

This is not to say you can never go to Dunkin’ Donuts or be with your old pals. It just means right now, as you are making this change, you may want to keep your distance.

Set realistic goals.

This is not to say don’t shoot for the sky. If you want to lose 100 pounds, for example, and your healthcare provider agrees that your body would benefit, then most certainly make that your ultimate goal.

In addition to your ultimate goal, you also want to develop short-term goals.

Consider if you wanted to get to the top of the CN Tower without an elevator. How would you do that? Would you take one giant leap and land on top? No. You would take one step at a time- right? You would take 20 or so stairs to get to the next floor and then set out for the next 20 steps.

Short-term goals are like getting to each floor of the CN Tower In addition to the long-term goal of getting to the very top, you want to focus on the smaller, more manageable goals of reaching each floor.

Another important component of goal setting is making the goals based on your behavior, rather than the outcome. For example, the average person’s weight can fluctuate five pounds during the course of a day. So, making a short-term goal based on pounds lost may not be the most accurate representation of your weight loss success. Instead, try “I will workout four times/week for 30 minutes each day” as your goal.

And make sure your short-term goals are attainable. Expecting yourself to workout 7 days/week for 60 minutes when you normally do not exercise may not be a healthy initial goal for you. “I will never again eat anything with sugar in it” can set you up for disappointment.

Track your success & reward yourself.

How are you doing towards your goal? If the answer is “I don’t know,” then more likely than not you are not on track.

Document when you do whatever it is you want to do. For example, put a smiling face on the calendar for every day you do not smoke. Or write in a journal each time you exercise and for how long. Tracking your success will help keep you on the right path.

And remember, reward is a powerful motivator — much more so than punishment. That is why beating yourself up when you don’t achieve your goal often does not help you get back on track.

Develop a reinforcement system for you, and make sure the reward is, in fact, something you want. And make it contingent on achieving your goal. I had a client who loved to get massages. She decided that, after achieving her short-term goal for one month, she would reward herself with a spa treatment. The problem was, though, she knew she would still go get a massage even if she didn’t exercise as she planned. The result? No motivation to workout for a massage, which resulted in less motivation to workout. Have that carrot dangling in front of you to help you stay on track.

Address setbacks.

The average smoker takes seven times to quit for good.

Scientists who study change consider “relapse” to be a normal part of change. This does not mean “feel free to give in every once in a while.” It does mean that, if it happens, you need not beat yourself up.

What others call “failure” I call “data.” What do I mean by this? If you vowed to never have a drink again but find yourself having consumed half a bottle of wine, ask yourself “why?” What were the ingredients that went into that decision? Consider components such as your stress level, environment, people around you, emotional state…Use the answer to “why” as data, or information that will help you get back on the right path.

You can also be more proactive with this data. If you have tried to achieve your resolution in the past and were not as successful as you might like, ask yourself what variables affected your behavior. Proactively identify possible future triggers, such as stress, people or certain environments, and ways to overcome these.

Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, is a psychologist, physical therapist and author of the bestselling book A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. She has been quoted by some of today’s top media outlets including CNN, MSNBC, NPR,Woman’s Day, Glamour, Self, Woman’s World, Health and Real Simple. Visit www.AHappyYou.com for more information. And order A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness today!

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