Every year in January many people make New Year’s Resolutions; they flock to the gyms, and go on diets in an effort to lose weight, get in shape, or change their lives some how for the better. People who work at gyms and yoga studios and so on will tell you how busy the month of January can be. After a few weeks, the busyness trickles off, and things go back to normal. Change is hard. Very hard, which is why starting out with very small goals (or resolutions) and continuing to build on your small successes is more likely to produce the outcomes you want – over a much longer period of time. When you set a goal for yourself, you are in control of manifesting that goal (mostly) as opposed to change that happens beyond your control (downsizing at work, illnesses or accidents, for example). You might want to lose 20 pounds in a month, or at least look like you did, but extreme efforts tend to be impossible to maintain, and goals and lifestyle changes are all about the maintenance. If you want to maintain something – healthier eating habits or exercise, and be able to incorporate it into your life, then start small and make it a gradual process that you can build on. If you want to start walking, then try it for 15 minutes two or three times per week. Once you have incorporated that, then build on it – maybe it’s 20 minutes three times per week. If you want to eat healthier, try adding one glass of water and one fruit or vegetable every day for a week, while picking something small to reduce or eliminate. The following week, reduce/eliminate one more thing and add one more fruit or vegetable. Breaking goals down into smaller pieces both in terms of the outcomes and time frames, will help you reach your goals in a way that promotes maintenance. Being able to reach your goals and maintain the outcomes will also be beneficial for your mental health by improving confidence and self-efficacy. Your self-talk or internal dialogue may be more positive, encouraging and less judgmental, leading to further maintenance via positive reinforcement.
In my private practice, I often have this conversation with clients who know they need to improve their mental or physical health in some way, but they frequently want it all and they want it yesterday! This is not because they are greedy or don’t want to do the work, it’s more because of standards or expectations they set for themselves that are unreasonable high and too hard to achieve. Many people unknowingly set themselves up for disappointment, and ultimately think of themselves as failures, or unable to follow through, perpetuating unhealthy thought patterns and behaviours. Set yourself up for success by breaking your goals into smaller, more doable pieces. Think tortoise and hare approach or less is more. For some people, the slowing down is the challenge. If you recognize that you have an all or nothing thinking style and approach to things, then slowing down and breaking things down into smaller pieces will be an added challenge to the actual goal, but well worth the effort. Think of your goal, or change, as a process rather than an event: a metamorphosis.
Learn to tolerate any uncomfortable thoughts or feelings that you may not be doing enough, or doing it right, etc. Relaxation techniques such as those found on my Resources page can help with this (http://www.dbcounsellingpei.ca/workshops.php).
Change takes time….a long time – that is maintaining a change so that it becomes your new normal. It’s longer than you think, although the typical 21 days is a good start. According to the research cited in the article link below, it takes 66 days before a new behaviour becomes a habit. Variations depend on the behaviour and the person, of course. I like this article because it addresses the balanced approach, and discusses the dangers of all or nothing approaches.
Change is so hard, Prochaska actually developed a theory around it to help us understand and achieve it better. There are five stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance (http://inspirehappy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/what-stage-are-you-in-graph2-1024×675.jpg)
If you’re thinking about making some healthy changes in your life, remember to be gentle with yourself. Change is hard, and it takes time for new behaviours to become habits that are fully incorporated and automatic in your life. Break it down into smaller elements and gradually build on your micro-successes. Breathe. For more information or help with change, please visit my web site (http://www.dbcounsellingpei.ca/), or contact me to book an appointment.