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Ask a Therapist #12: On New Year’s Resolutions

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Q: I’m losing momentum with my New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 and I’m not sure why? Can you offer some tips for creating sustainable habits?

A: As many fitness centres would attest, it is expected that enthusiastic people will flock to the gym with renewed dedication at the beginning of January but those same, once-energetic crowds may have already dropped out of their workout routines by February! It sounds like you are experiencing this similar challenging downturn in inertia with your goals and intentions for the year. Don’t lose hope – you are not alone! You can still get back on track and make 2020 a year of amazing change!

Whether you are looking for positive momentum in the area of exercise, self-care, relationships, work skills, creative pursuits, or other worthy goals, below are 5 tips to help you reorient to the changes you are trying to make and build a plan for healthy habits.

1. Go Smaller: If you make your goals for the year too big or too numerous you will find it harder to be consistent and will often give up altogether. Many great resources on habit formation recommend small, consistent changes over time in order to see the best results. Generally, it is also easier not to try to do too many things at once. Perhaps you need to simplify and start with one area or one small change. Once you have built some momentum there (21 days to form it and about 3 months to maintain it) you can layer on another area. Try not to overwhelm yourself as it can often yield poor results. Tackle one area at a time and start small and then build up once the consistency is in place.

2. Slow and Steady: Building slowly from a reasonable starting place helps establish the healthy foundational patterns that can support your ultimate goals. For example, if you are wanting to start your own mindfulness or centering prayer practice, consider starting with two minutes each day for a month and then move to 5 minutes the next month until you build up to your goal for the time. Two minutes is manageable and anyone can fit in that tiny a mindful moment but it may seem way too daunting to start at the 20 minute mark. Maybe just eliminate one unhealthy food each month from your diet and keep it out and start with something that is easier to overcome the natural resistance to change.

3. Understand the Barriers: You may find it helpful to spend some time sorting out what factors are holding you back from consistency. Determining some of the underlying resistance to change and/or the factors that contribute to your ability to implement a new direction is an important step in finding your groove. Particularly with trying to break bad habits, it is often important to discover why an ingrained pattern of behaviour is hard to let go before you can move forward in healthier ways. A therapist is trained to help you walk through some of these cognitive and emotional roadblocks that may be difficult to ascertain without some guidance. She can also support you along the way as you conceptualize and implement healthier patterns.

4. Phone a Friend: Social support is a key factor in all successful change so, when you are trying to implement a new habit, consider joining a group or setting up a partner who will cheer you on and keep you accountable. There are some great apps to do this easily, like Habit Share, that allow you to track your habits and share your daily success with friends. There is strength in numbers and having someone that will give you a gentle nudge to stay on track when you need it can be a crucial component in staying the course.

5. Be Flexible: As a fun tip for this particular year, when you are trying to create a daily habit that requires a longer time commitment, try the 2020 rule: 20 minutes, 20 times a month. Even though your goal may be to walk daily, give yourself some grace and know that some days it just won’t happen but that doesn’t have to mean that you can’t reach your goal. Also, it’s important to avoid an all-or-nothing mentality about your habits. For example, if you have decided that you will do a 20-minute run first thing every morning but you wake up and it’s icy or you have overslept, you may feel like all is lost for exercise now for that entire day. A more flexible approach would be to create the goal of simply moving your body daily. Then, on the days that you cannot get out for a run, you will have the option of doing indoor yoga or weights, or even taking a walk on your lunch break at work, or going skating at an outdoor rink with your kids after supper. Don’t give up on the whole day’s opportunity to meet your goal just because the exact form of exercise and/or timing doesn’t come together. Try to reframe your goals to give yourself more ways to be successful and let the rigidity drop away.

While many of these tips are simple they are not always easy! It can take a while to get a sustainable rhythm for the new year but it can be done! Remember, success in one area will beget success in another area so let that positivity fuel long term change. Hopefully then, when January 1st rolls around, you’ll have even more to celebrate!

To submit YOUR question for consideration in a future column or for more information about psychotherapy services that could help you build healthier habits, email sarahjoycovey@gmail.com. You can follow on Instagram @sarahjoycovey and @anewleaftherapy or visit sarahjoycovey.com for more content and to sign up for the newsletter which will keep you informed about all the exciting news @anewleaftutoring and @anewleafbooks – COMING SOON TO QUEEN STREET IN ELMVALE!

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