Setting and keeping resolutions

As women, we are accustomed to our plate being always full. With our family, our job, our friends and neighbors, and our broader community, it is hard to carve out a few minutes each day for ourselves, let alone focus on yet another obligation, goal or dreaded New Year’s resolution. But with the fast pace of today’s world, it is now more important than ever to set aside time for ourselves so that, in body and mind, we are healthy and happy for those we love.

As a psychotherapist, I often see women in my practice who are struggling with the stress of our ever-increasing obligations and busy schedules. I often work with them to set realistic goals and give them tools to keep those goals that are most important to them. Here are a few things to consider if you are setting a New Year’s resolution this year.

Carefully select which resolution you want to make. There’s a lot of buzz currently about mindfulness and focusing inward. That’s for when you’re not answering your cell phone, texting or twittering! It’s important to set goals that are meaningful to you and your life style. Before you set a resolution, take a look over the past year. Think about how you would like your life to be different in six months, one year and five years. And then make a list of those things you would like to change. If there are items on your list that have been difficult to change in the past, make a few notes as to why those transformations have been so difficult to accomplish.

Next, ask yourself if you want to change badly enough to put the needed effort into changing your habits. It takes time to achieve worthy goals. Also, ask yourself if you want the changes to be longstanding, since this means changing basic habits over the long haul. For example, if you want to lose weight and also want to keep it off, you will need to change some basic habits involving when, what and how much you eat, and probably exercise more on a consistent basis. For most of us, practicing new habits over the long term is the hard part!

Make your goals achievable. For example, if you tell yourself, “I am going to work out every day,” that type of unrealistic goal will most likely set you up for failure. Instead, define a smaller goal of exercising three times a week or walking for part of your lunch break at work. If your goal is to spend less, first look at what you’re spending. Collect receipts from all your purchases for a week and put them in a jar. Then, add them up and see where your money is going. Did you realize you bought so many lattes? Now you can decide how many lattes in a week are reasonable for you.

Start small and build to success. I can’t stress enough that our minds and bodies need time to practice and change longstanding habits. Writing down your goals and keeping them with you in your purse, laptop or smart phone can aid you in reaching your goals.

Planning is key to following through on your resolutions. For example, if your goal is a more healthy diet, prepare your shopping list well before you go to the store and avoid buying things that are not on your list. Prepare a week’s worth of food on the weekends and bring that food with you to work. If you like chicken, roast two on the weekend and eat them throughout the week, or make a large pot of soup or stew. The same idea applies to cutting up vegetables ahead of time so they are easy to grab. Or even easier, purchase bags of fresh veggies already prepared. I think the innovation of bagged, cleaned salad greens is right up there with the invention of M&M’s!

Put peer pressure to work for you! Tell your family and close friends about your resolutions, and ask them to support you in keeping your goals. If possible, work with a friend who has a similar resolution. Then when you’re tempted to quit, he or she can encourage you to keep going. Make sure everybody who is important to you understands that you are going to do this.

Make a list of alternative ways to keep your goal. If you decide that you really want as many lattes as you currently enjoy, then just look at your list and choose another way to economize, if that’s your goal. Could you watch less television—and stop paying for hundreds of cable channels? How about choosing to skip dessert or split an entrée with a friend? Could you lower your heater by one degree and reach for a sweater instead of the thermostat? How about making a bag lunch three times each week?

Keeping a list of alternative options is especially important when it comes to exercise and food. Hurt your foot and can’t run? What about swimming or rowing? Did you succumb to the crème brulée? Then look for a way to make your favorite dessert with more healthy ingredients or a way to cut a few calories during a different meal. Not only do our minds and bodies need time to practice and change longstanding habits, they also need flexibility in order to keep our goals.

When setting your goals this year, don’t forget to include the goal of being good to yourself. “I can’t” or “all or nothing” thinking is very counterproductive. This type of thinking can lead you to not doing things because you can’t do them as perfectly as you want or as often as you want. There are going to be long days at work when you can only get in half of your workout, and there are going to be parties where you may not eat as healthily as you would like. The key is to recognize these moments and not let them sabotage you in reaching your end goal.

Don’t lose site of the big picture. You feeling healthy and happy with the ones you love is the big picture. That should keep you going toward your goal. Be honest and realistic with yourself. Don’t decide that you’re going to make a 150 percent change in the way you behave when that’s highly unlikely. Make a commitment to yourself to make a change you know is good for you. A lot of research supports the importance of life style choices in our overall health. So focus on life style changes that will enhance your physical, emotional and economic health.