It’s the first week of the New Year, and everyone is amped to start making changes. “New Year, new me!” Well, we all know how easy it is to fall off the wagon and resort back to old ways as February and March roll around.
I’ve spent the past 10 years helping clients figure out how to make long-lasting, sustainable changes in their lives (whether it be cognitive, emotional, behavioral, or relational). As this new year begins, I’m imparting on you 5 useful tips to help you stick with your resolutions all year long:
1. Visualize your success.
I can’t stress to you enough the power of visualization. Our internal world has incredible control over what we make of our external world, so it starts with the mind. Visualization can be used to help you figure out what exactly it is that you want, change your self-image and beliefs about accomplishing a goal, mentally rehearse taking action, increase hope for success, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many spiritual teachers promote visualization as a tool for shifting vibrational energy and manifesting thoughts. Whether or not you believe that to be true, visualization is still a highly effective tool for developing clarity with goals and enhancing motivation, self-efficacy, and focus.
When using visualization, it helps to create a mental picture (as if it were a movie scene) of how things would look, feel, sound, smell, etc. if they were exactly the way you want them to be. Tap into the emotions you would feel as if that scene in your mind already exists. It helps to be very detailed in our visualizations, but don’t become attached to those details (life has a way of throwing curveballs, and a new path can end up presenting even better opportunities). When we’ve rehearsed something over and over in our minds we have a better understanding of what kinds of actions to take, unlocking solutions and building confidence. I recommend setting aside at least 10-15 minutes daily for visualization. This can be done either first thing in the morning to set the tone for the day, or as the last activity before falling asleep.
2. Set measurable and achievable goals.
The best way to stay motivated and monitor success is to measure progress in some objective manner. For those with fitness goals this may translate to pounds on the scale, inches lost, personal records, distance, etc. If your goal is set in language that is more abstract, such as “I want to be a better person,” then it is helpful to identify concrete and measurable things you can do that would equal “being a better person.” This might equate to something like donating to charity, random acts of kindness, giving compliments, or telling the truth. Be realistic with your goals, make them time specific, and celebrate small victories along the way.
3. Plan ahead and create a schedule.
There’s a reason why all of the extremely fit and sculpted people on social media are the same people who post about “meal preps” and “never miss a Monday.”
Preparation, predictability, and structure are key elements to behavior change. When trying to break old habits and form new ones; it is common to feel uncomfortable, moody, and emotional. During times of emotional dysregulation it is easy to make impulsive and poor decisions, resorting back to old behaviors. If you’re feeling “hangry” and the only thing in the fridge is a well-portioned healthy meal, you’re less likely to end up in the Jack-in-the-Box drive thru. Those who have structure and a game plan are better able to navigate triggers and moments of weakness.
4. Reward yourself.
Any behavior modification specialist will tell you that reinforcement is a much stronger shaper of behavior than punishment. We perform for rewards. We get up and go to work every day because we know that we will get a paycheck at the end of the pay period. Now, at some point we are able to recognize the value of the internal/intrinsic rewards (i.e. feeling proud and having a sense of purpose) for certain behaviors, but until we get to that point, external rewards are extremely motivating. So, set a small goal and when you hit that goal, treat yo self!
5. Keep with it!
The moment you’re ready to quit is usually the moment right before a miracle happens. Don’t give up.