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Making And KEEPING Your New Years Resolutions

No eye rolling when talking about your New Year’s Resolutions this year, because Existential Therapy (the Psychology of Existence, that is) has broken it down, using Mindfulness and Behavioral therapy to mindhack you into keeping your resolutions to 2020 and beyond with 4 easy steps. And surprisingly, Willpower is only 25% of it (so don’t solely rely on it).

Step 1: Brainstorming

Self-explanatory, but important. Let yourself think of changes or things you would want in this or any year. Make a mental note of them or list them on a piece of paper. Don’t worry about putting too many down (we’ll take care of that in Step 2). Once you feel tired of brainstorming whether you have 7 or 77 items, step up to Step 2.

Step 2: Pick the ones dear to your heart (aka “Mindfulness Wishing”)

Fire up the incense and play Marconi Union’s “Weightless,”  because we’re going into Mindfulness.

Focus on each goal and let your mind wander. Identify the thoughts and feelings which motivate each goal. If a goal seems to echo something critical someone (or even yourself) said to you, just note them and let them go… like a cloud drifting by.

When you’ve got a list of goals which come from a place of optimism, hope, self-compassion and/or growth you know you’re cooking with gas. Tapping into your wishes allows your wants to be realized in a genuine way that leads to the possibility for contentment and happiness. The closer the wish is to your heart, the more your heart and mind are unified to move towards that goal.

Ask yourself which one goal from that list would be most important and meaningful for you to achieve in the coming year. Got your list? We may proceed.

Step 3: Bite-Sized Winning

Now that you know what your goal is you are on your way. At this point it is critical that you break down your overarching goal (e.g., losing weight) into more specific, realistic, and manageable parts.

Adapted from S.M.A.R.T. (1981), The Secret to Successful Doing are Goals which are:

  • Specific – “I’ll work out 3x/week” vs “I will work out again”
  • Achievable – should be “realistic” and does NOT require overwhelming amount of effort – even if it means starting with just walking to the gym without entering. Another tip: Research shows that having a “buddy” to commit to a goal with helps the odds of it being achieved. So consider speaking with a friend that will “keep you honest” on your goal and that you can do the same for as well. Even better, if you share the same goal you can integrate your plans together.
  • Measurable – as in being able to measure the number of steps you’ve accomplished, framing validation and progress helps keep the resolution going forward.

Step 4: Check yourself when you’re challenged (aka Willpower)

You’ve determined the goals that are true to your heart and are realistic. You’ve chopped them up to easy measurable steps that you should have no problem achieving. So how do you actually – you know – do the thing you want to do over a long period of time? Enter, stage right: “Willing” and Willpower.

At this point you go forward and wait… you wait for the first time you feel challenged to not do it (and every time after).

Notice what happens when you come up against a challenge; see if you find yourself making excuses and saying “you can’t” do something. Resist the temptation to give into those excuses or displacement of responsibility. Accept that it may feel “impossibly” difficult and do it anyway. Feelings are not facts.

More on Willpower

The concept of willpower and how it works is complicated, but rather well-studied and worth a careful read. It includes ways of managing your willpower so as to give yourself the best chance to succeed at any goal you set. This is a solid place to start with a summary from the American Psychological Association’s website http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower.aspx

When to seek help…

If you continue to get stuck at this stage and find that no matter how much you seem to want to achieve a goal, no matter how carefully you develop the strategy, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t even – then it may be time to look into getting some professional assistance. Here, your therapist can become your Mental Coach.


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