Dear Drewbie: Make your New Year’s resolution count this time
Yep, it’s here already: the New Year. At this time of year, many people aim to bring about great change in their lives with lofty resolutions aimed at improving their life, health or behaviors in some way or another. But, when the majority of resolutions never see February, us resolutioners need to improve the ways we set these goals.
I always set resolutions, and, generally, they are strange, like me. A couple years ago, I wanted to use chopsticks more. (Weird, I told you.) The reason? My sister gave me some chopsticks from Laos. Whenever I use them, it was like sitting down to a meal with my sister, whom I do not get to see often. It was warming, comforting and fun. I also noticed that I enjoyed meals more with chopsticks. It made me eat slower, and I like using chopsticks. Now, I can pretty much eat soup with chopsticks! Not really a major self-improvement, but it made me happy to think about my sister when eating, so it was a victory.
Another year, I decided I wanted to eat more foods. Never being a picky eater, there were only a few obstacles to overcome, namely mushrooms and raw tomatoes. I told myself they were good, and I set out to enjoy them and more foods. I can say that I have overcome my “food fears” and eat everything now. Mission accomplished.
Last year, however, I failed miserably at my resolution. I thought, “If I overcame my dislike for mushrooms, why not take a step further?” I resolved to be happier and did not accomplish this goal for a variety of reasons: 1) I did not try hard enough. 2) Life was rough for me this year, (broken ankle, financial worries, severe head injury, death of a family member, etc.). 3) I allowed excuses (see Point Two) to dominate good decisions and behaviors. 4) I didn’t listen to my own words.
2016: a year for new beginnings, or at least that is my hope. Change in my life is on the horizon, and many of the changes might help me reach my 2015 goal of being happier. Better late than never. I wanted another chopstick-like-change in my life.
The problem: I have far too many things that I need to change. How do I know what I should change? I am guessing many of you struggle with this quandary as well. What can/should I change that will improve my life?
I decided on a big one, one that will help me improve in multiple areas of my life through one goal. On my website, http://www.freepsychologyhelp.com, I recently wrote an article about cognitive dissonance. This concept in social psychology is a fancy way of calling someone a hypocrite. The text definition is “being in a state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs and attitudes,” and this generally this refers incongruence between thinking and actions. Basically, what we say does not line up with what we do.
My resolution: Minimize cognitive dissonance in my life. While virtually all people have some level of cognitive dissonance, my favorite people have cognitive dissonance in check. For example, I write articles about the value of yoga, yet, when stressed out, I am not practicing yoga. I preach about responsible technology use but seem to be connected to my phone. I talk about eating healthy as I munch on chicken wings and onions rings. I beg for honesty from people, yet I am often fake and hide my real feelings from others.
See what I am saying? I am a hypocrite. Sucks to say, but it’s true — I talk a big game. I am incongruent in my words and actions. In 2016, I want to eliminate cognitive dissonance and have more congruency between words, actions and thoughts.
Setting your resolutions
Here are some helpful tips for deciding on your NYR for 2016. Remember: Resolutions are goal setting, so revisit my advice from earlier about goal setting. (Find it online at http://www.summitdaily.com by searching “mental workout.”)
1. Put some time into thinking about what you want to change: Don’t just say, “I want to lose 10 pounds” because it is a popular goal. Think about what you really want to change and why. What would make you happier with yourself or improve as a person or function better in your life? Over the next few days, think about what would lead to a marked improvement in life. If you are struggling to think of something, ask a friend to help.
2. Create a plan: Great, you identified a goal. Now how on earth are you going to achieve it? Lay out the steps that will help you reach your goal. This could be a schedule or routine to help you achieve it.
3. Remember the 80/20 approach: This states that if you meet your goal 80 percent of the time, you will see vast improvement. This may not apply to all goals, but, for many, it is a great approach. If you want to eat healthy, eat healthier meals five to six days per week and give yourself one or two days a week to maybe eat less than healthy. This has shown to be a more effective (and long-lasting) weight-loss plan than many strict diets because it minimizes learned helplessness (see below). An 80/20 approach generally leads to a lifestyle change that is more likely to stick.
4. Avoid learned helplessness: This is when a person or animal has failed and says, “Well, I tried and failed, so why keep trying?” If you are on a very strict diet, slip up once and pound a pizza by yourself, you might be tempted to just give up. If you slip up in day three, don’t quit. Just start fresh, forgive yourself and learn from your indiscretion.
5. Track your progress and don’t be scared to change your approach: Some goals are very measureable (quantitative), like getting on the ski hill three days per week. You either did it or not. Other goals are not easily measured (qualitative) but are equally as important. These are more felt than measured. With both goals, track your progress and measure your growth. Make changes if you aren’t progressing like you expected.
6. Be specific and don’t set too many goals: Having too many goals is overwhelming and often leads to learned helplessness or quitting. I would say three goals is a comfortable maximum. Also, be specific with what you want to accomplish. This helps hold you accountable.
7. Write your goals down: All goals should be written down and put somewhere to help you stay accountable. If you want to eat healthier, put a big note on your fridge that reminds you of the resolution.
8. Help you help yourself: Set yourself up for success. If eating healthier is a goal, don’t tempt yourself by keeping junk food around. Don’t go to McDonalds — try a juice bar and eat healthy instead.
9. Put you goal out there: Having a support system of friends can be monumental. Some goals are personal, but telling a friend that you’re simply trying can improve your chance at success.
I have a community resolution for us in Summit County: Let’s all resolve to be nicer to Texans… Nah, let’s shred more gnar! Happy New Year’s, Summit County!
Drew Mikita is an associate professor of psychology at Colorado Mountain College. Since 2007, he has practiced mental health in Summit County as a licensed professional counselor. He is also a sports psychology consultant currently pursuing a doctorate in sport psychology. Originally from Summit County, Ohio, Drew is living out his dream as a mountain person.
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