Here is January’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
It’s only the end of January, and I’ve already abandoned my New Year’s resolutions. Is there are trick to making changes that stick?
You’re in good company. It’s hard to stick to New Year’s resolutions, especially when there are so many other things distracting us from our goals. I applaud you for thinking of things you want to focus on. Here are a few tricks to making lasting changes:
- Only choose one or two small things to change at a time. Often people choose to do an entire life overhaul: exercise, diet, floss, more quality time with the kids, read a book a week…you get the picture. Start with one small change in one or two categories for two weeks. Add a 10 minute walk and one serving of fruit a day. Let go of the idea that you’re going to do the Whole 30 and attend a 60 minute spinning class five days a week. The following two weeks, add another small change, like playing ping pong with the kids for fifteen minutes three days a week.
- Get clear on WHY you are choosing these goals. If the only reason you want to exercise and eat differently is to lose weight, it’s easy to give up. If you want to improve your mood, live longer, decrease your risk of disease, have more energy to give to work and family, decrease the pain in your left shoulder, and feel more comfortable when you wear your favorite pair of jeans, it may be easier to stick with it. The more reasons you have to make the change, the more likely you are to stick to your new plan.
- Every night before you go to sleep, and every morning when you wake up, take a moment to recommit to the small changes you’re making. Remind yourself why you’re making them and mentally rehearse engaging in the actions needed to make them happen. Like a movie in your mind, watch as you wake up to your alarm, put on your gym clothes, eat a piece of fruit and head out the door for your 10 minute walk. Picture yourself happy and excited to engage in your new habits. Imagine how good it will feel to have completed your goals for the day. Olympic athletes do this often. They mentally rehearse every small moment of their program, over and over. Research shows this helps to solidify their skills and reinforce their new habits.
- Give yourself a break. Don’t engage in all or nothing thinking. Don’t give up if you miss your walk two days in a row. Just remember even the smallest change is better than nothing. Our lives fight to stay in homeostasis (the same old pattern). The pull toward old habits is strong. Any little thing you can do to move toward change is helping to create new connections in your brain. Keep at it. Every day–every minute—is a new opportunity to recommit to living in line with your goals.
This advice can be applied to every aspect of your life. If you want to make changes at work, in your relationships, your health, your faith, or any other aspect of your life, take it slow and steady and get anchored in the reasons why you want to change. You and your family are worth the work. Good luck,
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC, a group family therapy practice in Chester Springs. She is the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families. And check out her books on Amazon.