Take the Stress out of New Year's Resolutions and Improve Your Chances of Success

Monday, January 5, 2015
resolutionsMore than 50 percent of Americans create New Year’s resolutions. For those thinking that there has to be a way to mitigate the stress of resolutions and improve success rates, one Menninger clinician says borrowing psychosocial techniques that have proved successful for patients may be the solution to making lasting change. 
According to Brad Kennedy, director, Rehabilitation Services, the technique is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, and is used in psychotherapy. Specifically, he has worked with clients who have successfully used these techniques to achieve their social integration and relationship goals after treatment.
“The concept is easily translatable into non-therapy settings because it focuses on what’s most important to the individual and offers them a flexible, compassionate and rewarding system to achieve their goals,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy offers a four-step process to using elements of ACT to create and maintain resolutions with the least amount of stress possible.
  1. Identify your values – This is as textbook a first step as “admitting it,” but isn’t as esoteric as it may sound. Start by examining what’s most important to you in your life and you’ll make resolutions that are more closely aligned to your values, not the checklists you see in magazines. Authenticity to self is important when identifying resolutions or you may be striving toward something that sounds good, but isn't really meaningful for you. Putting it into practice: To identify your values and prepare these resolutions, answer the question, “What’s a life worth living for me?” Start with just three and then prioritize, but if you have more or less, that’s fine too. Remember, these are your values. Think beyond family and work; also consider your creativity and passions. There’s a free online assessment at viacharacter.com that you may find helpful in this step. Franklin Covey also has some online tools and there are plenty of websites dedicated to helping people create personal mission and vision statements.
  2. Take time for introspective reflection – When considering big changes, take time for mindfulness moments or else you’re setting yourself up for failure. Mindfulness happens when you’re in a reflective, curious state and when you consciously slow down your thinking. The goal is to become more fully aware of your thoughts and feelings. Simply jotting down a few resolutions before the midnight champagne toast on New Year’s Eve is not going to give you the greatest opportunity for success. That’s what is called “socially prescribed goals” or making a checklist of what you think others want you to improve upon throughout the year. Putting it into practice: Extend your deadline for creating your resolutions beyond Jan. 1 to give yourself time and space to be truly reflective. With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there’s probably less chance for you to identify the changes you truly value and why. And after all, even some bill collectors give you a 15-30 day grace period.
  3. Create your commitment device(s) – Say goodbye to the “all or nothing” approach to resolutions and “yes/no” behaviors. It’s about staying as committed as possible by identifying coping skills to help you become more and more consistent. These are called commitment devices. Putting it into practice: What is something you can do that would help you follow through where you have previously failed to remain consistent? Each value listed above should have a corresponding commitment device. Examples of commitment devices are not buying foods that would cause weight gain or having a workout partner who meets you at the gym. Whatever your commitment device looks like, ensure that it is supportive and not punitive.
  4. Develop a compassionate voice for yourself – Remember these are your values and it’s your life, so be supportive of yourself. We would never tell someone we loved or cared about that they are weak or that they are a failure, so why do we use such harsh words for ourselves? A punitive, fear-based approach that exists in your head loses its effectiveness overtime. Compassion is the long-term success matrix that produces positive results. Putting it into practice: Recognize that any improvement is good change because it’s something you weren’t doing before. Celebrate and note all victories for easy ongoing reflection throughout the year and upon identifying goals for 2016.