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Take the Stress out of New Year’s Resolutions

Shepherd Center psychologist offers tips for making resolutions stick.

By Jill Koval, Ph.D.
Shepherd Center Psychologist

Although we’re just a few days into the new year, many people are already starting to see a wane in their commitment to their new year’s resolutions. As life gets back to normal after the holidays, daily routines – and all it takes to complete them – can very quickly overshadow the promises we made to ourselves and to others to make 2019 our best year yet. Here are a few tips to help you keep yourself on track as the new year unfolds.

  • Take a flexible approach. Resolutions don't have to be all or nothing! Usually, people think in terms of extremes. They think, “I must lose all of this weight,” or “I am going to complete all of these things,” before the end of the year. Thinking in extremes often results in putting too much pressure on yourself and setting potentially unrealistic goals.
  • Map the steps to success. Behaviors consist of a series of steps from start to finish. Consider: Have you tried to make this change before? If so, what helped, and what made it harder to succeed? At what points in following these steps did you get off track? Strategies toward success include:
    • elimination of potential barriers
    • getting the supplies needed for success
    • enlisting help from family/friends for encouragement and positive feedback or finding a buddy who wants to make a similar change in behavior
    • deciding the reinforcements that you will use along the way, including positive affirmations
  • Consider your readiness. When thinking about what you’d like to accomplish, consider if you’re ready to make a change. It usually takes time to mentally prepare for making a change, and readiness doesn't happen overnight. This is a really important stage and part of the process in being successful. Gauging your readiness includes thinking about why you’d like to make a change. For example, are you committing to the change because YOU want to (internal motivation) or because someone else wants you to (external motivation)? Remember, commitments to change that result from internal motivation are usually easier to attain that those resulting from external motivation.
  • Make swaps. Many people resolve to stop doing something, such as smoking, at the beginning of a new year. If you’re trying to eliminate a behavior, consider what behavior you will put in its place. When the urge to revert to the old behavior strikes, you’ll be prepared with a healthier alternate behavior.
  • Keep your perspective. Don't expect perfection! Remember: It takes a few weeks for a new behavior to truly become a habit. Don't jump ship on your resolutions the first time that you make a mistake. Learn from it and move on.
  • January 1 is just another day. There is no special magic to January 1. It doesn't mean that challenges suddenly disappear. And, it’s certainly not the only day of the year you can resolve to make changes in your life. Every day allows you the opportunity to change your life.
  • Give yourself some love. When thinking about changes that you’d like to make, also think about those things that you feel you are doing well and vow to keep at it. At the end of each day, take inventory of the things you did well and celebrate your successes! If you didn’t have such a great day, week or month, be kind to yourself and start again.

JILL KOVAL, PH.D., ABPP,  joined the psychology staff of Shepherd Center in 1989, after completing her internship at the VA Medical Center in Decatur, Georgia. She has a long-standing position in leadership in the department, and she is currently the psychology supervisor. Dr. Koval received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the George Washington University and is board certified in rehabilitation psychology.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.