How do we actually keep our New Year's Resolutions? This is a question that is asked each year, usually by the end of January. New Year's Resolutions are essentially goals that we set for ourselves to accomplish during the year. These goals, however, may not be met and are set to be the following year's resolutions. Why does this happen? How can we achieve our resolutions?
In my practice, we spend the first session or two, and then as often as needed, discussing long term and short term goals/objectives. These are different terms, to be discussed below. Often, a New Year's Resolution is a long term goal (e.g., "I want to loose weight," "I want to have a good bathing suit body," "I want to get a new job," "I want to quit smoking") and it does not reflect the certain attributes that are needed to actually be successful in attaining this goal.
If we want our resolutions to be kept, we need to have an understanding of what healthy goal setting looks like. Long term goals are the broad aspirations that we would like to achieve later in the future. They are the end destination in a particular area of our lives. Long term goals may be large or small. Short term goals or objectives are the steps on the ladder to get you there. We don't jump on the roof of a three story building from the ground without climbing each step on the way up (unless we are Spider Man or another superhero-which is highly unlikely). For example, a long term goal may be for a child to learn how to wash their hands independently. Now, this may seem like a simple task and too simple to be a long term goal. However, take a moment and think of all of the objectives that need to be accomplished before the child achieves the long term goal of washing their hands independently. If you need some help, here are just a few of the steps on the ladder: walk to appropriate sink, turn water on, wet hands, pump soap, lather hands (both hands, between fingers, palm and outer hand), rinse soap off, turn water off, and dry hands. The child needs to be able to complete each of the objectives in order to achieve the long term goal.
Why am I writing about hand washing steps? If we have a resolution to go to the gym and loose weight and we have never been to the gym before, we are not likely to start going 4 times a week and maintain this schedule for long. If we haven't been looking for a new job, we are not likely to get hired by a company with a 50% salary increase by January 15th. There are objectives and short term goals that need to be accomplished first.
Goals need to be measurable (go to the gym 2 times/week for 30min each time), attainable (look for a new job to earn more money, not win the lottery), specific (target one behavior-eating, drinking, or exercising, not "be healthier") and realistic (learn 2 new healthy dinner recipes, not become a famous gourmet health chef on TV within 1 month).
When we set long term and short term goals, it can be helpful to make sure that we have enough steps on the ladder (objectives), a realistic long term goal, and that we make sure each goal is measurable, attainable, specific, and realistic.
Let's not confuse goals with dreams. You can dream about winning the lottery or becoming famous. These just don’t make for good resolutions or goals.
Consider revising your resolutions so they have enough short term goals and are measurable, attainable, specific, and realistic. It's never too late. If you noticed, I noted earlier that goals are discussed as often as needed throughout treatment in my practice. Goals can and should be revised whenever needed. Circumstances, desires, feelings, and finances change. Be flexible with your goal setting and enjoy climbing the ladder!
What are your revised New Year's Resolutions?