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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Okay, So THAT Didn't Work: New Years Resolutions, Mark II

Let's try that again.

It’s a week into 2014, and time to realize that once again the ambitious New Year’s Resolutions most people set haven’t actually worked. One option is to throw one’s hands up and wait til next year.
Another option is to learn from experience and start the new year again.

The key principle for effective annual goal-setting is to draw the distinction between Resolutions and Revolutions – and Kill The Revolution.

Sudden, wrenching change seldom works. Virtually every time in your life you have uttered the words “From now on,…” it turned out you were lying. Few people do anything “From now on.”

Instead we make small, unambitious steps that (sometimes) eventually add up to major change. So here are a few basic principles:

  1. Aim low. It’s better to set a goal that you can achieve than one you can’t, and no one ever said you can’t do more than you planned.
  2. No “Every day” goals. You probably don’t do anything every day, and you never will. Miss one day and the plan is ruined for the year. Exchange these for “at least once”, “more than last year,” or “more often than not.”
  3. Start now. Identify something you can achieve this week so that you can check it off as having been achieved before January is out. You’ll get a sense of momentum that will enhance your work on the other goals.

And what goals should you set? Well, that’s up to you. You know your life situation better than I do. But here are some possibilities that have been making the rounds here at Changeways Clinic.

Give up one social medium. Social media can take an enormous amount of time – time that we often find not by diverting idle television-watching but by sacrificing genuine social contact. Good life management involves not just planting new trees of interest, but also pruning dead wood. Is there one social medium or account that you can eliminate? (Personally, I have been on Twitter for ages and still don’t quite see a use for it – but I’m willing to give it a bit longer to prove itself.)

Less screen time. For one typical day, set your smartphone alarm to ring every half hour. Then forget about it. When it rings, record whether or not you happened to be looking at a screen of some sort (phone, computer, iPad, television). At the end of the day calculate your reality ratio: Number of times you were NOT looking at a screen, divided by the total number of times the alarm went. Then push yourself on at least one other day to increase this ratio so that more of your life is spent in the real world.

More face to face. Take the initiative, THIS WEEK, to make at least one social engagement with friends that you normally wouldn’t. A lunch, coffee, dinner, movie, weekend – something. Then follow through.

Buy one lose one. Rather than accumulating ever more stuff, resolve to end the year with no more possessions than you started with. If you buy something new, something old has to go to recycling or the thrift store. If you are a clothes collector, limit the number of hangars in your closet so that you have to get rid of the old to make room for the new. This may put a brake on some of the purchasing – or at minimum may make you look less like a hoarder.

Change one food. Rather than embarking upon the crash diet or the eating revolution, identify one problem food that you consume (such as French fries) and work on it. Either give it up altogether (while still allowing for the occasional lapse), or cut the quantity or frequency. Giving up ice cream may seem impossible, but shifting it from daily to weekly will eliminate 6/7 of the calories and cholesterol without making you feel quite so deprived.

Give more. One of the surest ways to feel wealthy is to give money away. Rather than trying to become Bill or Melinda Gates, just resolve to give at least a dollar more this year than last. Then give at least part of that total in January. If you can, reach your goal this month. Next year, calculate your actual high-water mark and adopt the same resolution again.

Pay cash. If you overuse credit, make it less convenient. Keep your cards but leave them at home. If it’s a real emergency you can always get at them. Shop by actually handing over cash rather than a piece of plastic that the clerk hands back to you intact. The conceptual reality behind debit and credit cards is not as powerful as the physical reality of an emptying wallet.

Find the worst parking space. Rather than wasting time and raising your blood pressure hunting for the closest parking space to your destination, remind yourself that you could probably do with more exercise. Drive immediately to the furthest corner of the lot, where you are more likely to sail into a spot and then get some fresh air while walking to your destination.

Escalators don’t exist. A gym in Vancouver offers patrons an escalator up to the floor containing the StairMaster equipment. What if, rather than making exercise an arbitrary add-on, we incorporated it into our everyday lives. Just imagine that every escalator has a disability symbol on it – it’s for those who have difficulty walking, not (in all likelihood) you. Similarly, assume that a recent planetary alignment has made elevators incapable of journeys of two floors or less. For these, stairs are the only way.

And if that doesn't work - aim even lower, until it does.

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