I remember years ago when I worked for a Smokers’ Quitline, we all had to work on New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Eve, thousands of people had made a resolution to stop smoking the next day. So there we were, fully staffed, fielding hundreds of calls from people who had made resolutions the night before—perhaps in a drunken haze—and only hours later were already struggling with their urges. We used to joke that we could all take our vacations by February 1, because by that time almost all of the frantic callers from earlier in the month had resumed smoking. Why? Usually the decisions were made without a lot of thought and planning, so they were pretty much doomed from the start.
As this story illustrates, I believe that resolutions are not the best way to go about the changes you want to see. I often suggest that people give it a good few weeks to a month after the excess and lack of structure of the holidays before they start to make some of those changes. By then you will have settled back in to your routine, and can take the time to plan so that you will be successful.
If you really want to make a big change, you need a few key ingredients: motivation (knowing deeply why you want to change); a good understanding of the obstacles you face; a plan for how to make it stick; and a support system. Let’s look at these elements in greater detail.
- Motivation: Deciding to lose weight or quit smoking may be wonderful goals, but are you really ready? If you don’t clearly know why you want to do this now, it will be tough to withstand the chocolate kisses at work or the coworker who always offers you a smoke on your coffee break. If you are doing it because you know you should, or to please someone else, it probably won’t work. Although I don’t suggest that you put your efforts off until you are sure you are ready, you may want to seek help from a professional who can help you move along the road to change if you are feeling iffy. If you do feel motivated, I recommend that you come up with a clear statement that expresses this intention: “I want to be able to dance at my daughter’s wedding without huffing and puffing,” or, “I want my grandson to say I smell good when he hugs me,” for instance. Repeat this statement like a mantra so it is easily accessible at all times. When you most need it, it will be there for you.
- Understand the obstacles: As you prepare to make major behavioral changes, it’s important to recognize the emotional and physical challenges you face. For instance, if you know that you can’t resist cookies and your partner always buys them, this needs to be addressed in your plan. Or if you tend to get depressed at this time of year, you need to understand this so you won’t be surprised when you are having a hard time sticking to your goals.
- Making a plan: Incorporate all the obstacles you have identified and include ways you will deal with those obstacles. If you know your coworker will offer you cigarettes, tell him or her you are quitting so he/she will not offer them, and skip that coffee break until you are stronger. Take the time to clear your life of all the offending parties: jelly doughnuts, lighters, etc. Know what you will do instead of your usual habits, and make sure you don’t leave yourself easy outs. For instance, if you always stop at 7-11 on the way home to buy your coffee and cigarettes, go a different way; or if you must stop, get something different to “shake up” your routine. Share your intentions with your loved ones so that they will know how to support you. Too many resolutions have been thwarted when a well-intentioned quitter hears, “Just have a cigarette—you were nicer when you smoked!”
- Identify and utilize your supports: Telling people about your plan helps build in accountability. It will also help you feel less alone in your process. Go to a life coach, therapist, quit-smoking group, Weight Watchers, etc., to find others who can support you in your journey. This will help you in those most difficult moments to process all the different feelings that arise, and will keep you on track when you are most frustrated.
A few last suggestions: treat yourself with kindness and compassion! And know that in the initial days of changing something like our diets or habits, we feel an adrenaline rush that propels us to keep going. After a few days or weeks, the adrenaline wears off and it is harder to keep our motivation alive. If you know this will happen, you can be prepared.
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lillian Rozin, MFA, LCSW, RYT, therapist in Media, Pennsylvania
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