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Try working on your resolutions one at a time

Deidre Ashley

January 10, 2018 | From the Jackson Hole News & Guide Sound Mind Column

Hello, 2018, and all that it may bring.

With the start of each new year many of us traditionally renew our resolutions. Sometimes they are the same ones that were left behind by about Jan. 15 the previous year. Most New Year’s goals we set tend to focus on improving our physical health.

Some of the more popular 2017 resolutions include:

• Eat healthier and exercise more.

• Focus more on personal happiness.

• Lose weight or quit smoking.

• Set up a budget or savings plan.

• Spend more time with family.

• Procrastinate less.

• Improve relationships with spouse, kids or parents.

• Focus on current romantic relationship.

• Be a better spouse, parent, child or friend.

• Travel.

Sound vaguely familiar? Roughly half of all Americans make resolutions each year. Most report that they stick with them for about two months or so.

The good news is that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to see the changes they are seeking than those that do not make resolutions. So what are the secrets to successful resolutions and what are the pitfalls to avoid?

One thing to avoid is making resolutions that are not realistic or lack a strategy to attain the goal. The best goals are realistic and outline steps to success. It seems a bit like common sense to say that change will not happen just because you want it to. However, it is quite a common mistake and can end up making you feel like a failure.

The best approach to sticking with any resolution or goal is keep it simple. You don’t have to do everything all at once. Pick a simple and specific goal and focus on that for an appropriate amount of time. When you feel as though you have made significant progress, move on to another goal.

Taking on too many big goals is overwhelming and a sure way to not achieve any of them. That doesn’t mean you can’t have more than one resolution. Just prioritize and work on one at a time for greater results. The reality is that to be successful you are creating new habits to replace the old. Practice every day. Once the new habit is set it becomes automatic.

Also consider adding a couple of the following activities that are related to improving your overall mental wellness (and happen to be steps to reaching many of the goals listed above). Pick one to work on for a week or two, and then move on to another.

• Practice mindfulness every day. Focus on being aware and present in the moment, even if it is only a few moments each day. Schedule time in your day. Write it in your planner or add reminders to your calendar. Even just a few moments each day can make a huge difference. It is a skill that takes practice. Once you make it a habit to be more aware you will be able to focus more on your goals.

• Avoid avoiding. Pushing uncomfortable feelings or situations away can prolong suffering and make you feel worse. Focus on becoming aware of what is really going on without making assumptions.

• Accumulate positives. Work on leading a balanced life. Responsibilities are important and stressful, but don’t forget to “fill your bank” with positive experiences and activities that feed your soul. Schedule time to relax and enjoy the things you have rather than focus on what you lack. Notice the beauty in everyday experiences, practice what you are skilled at and try something you have always wanted to do.

• Challenge negative thoughts. Remember that a thought is just that — a thought — until we give it power and mentally turn it into a fact. Take note of how many times during the day you have negative thoughts about yourself. Challenge those thoughts with facts, and replace them with positive affirmations. Try not to make assumptions. We tend to do this and then run with the inference. Check your inferences before reacting.

Goals include changing habits, and that takes time and practice. Give yourself room for making mistakes, and then try again. Don’t give up. We are only human, and having too high of expectations for perfection just sets us up for failure. Long-term change is difficult and takes time and effort. Keep in mind that you have all year to work on your resolutions.