Happy 2017 everyone! I felt privileged to witness the many personal and interpersonal goals you achieved in 2016 and I’m sure many of you made some resolutions to reach for even more enriching experiences in this new year.
Whether you want to:
- work on being a better partner, spouse, parent, version of yourself;
- eat, sleep or exercise healthier;
- get your financial ducks in row to save more for that special dream;
- leap for the promotion you’ve been fantasizing about;
- return to school for the field that you wished you tried,
- spend more time on the hobby or volunteer activity that tickles your essence, or
- [list your unnamed goal]
here are a few things you can do which have worked well for those who achieved their goals.
- Identify your destination.
The best way to get to where you want to go is to keep your sight focused on where you are going. Like driving and certain athletics, the technique of spotting, or focusing on a point in the distance, in the direction you want to go is the best way to ensure you get there. Especially if your path gets rainy and foggy, the key to staying on course is not to search for and stare at all the reflective rails, cones and lights of oncoming traffic you’re trying to avoid hitting. That would be equivalent of spotting the hazards which our motor reflex center interprets as the direction we want to take. Instead, we’re taught in driving school to keep our gaze ahead and on the line for the shoulder or median of the road. If your resolution is to work on your marriage, instead of saying vaguely that you don’t want to be as negative to your spouse, your goal might be to be more patient with your differences about household chores.
- Break your goal down to step-size.
The general guideline is the bigger the goal, the smaller, simpler, shorter term, and observable the steps, the more effective you’ll be. If at the end of each week, day, or even hour, you can definitively check off whether or not you accomplished your goal, you know it’s the right size. If your goal is to be more patient with your spouse’s differences, you might decide to let go of or refuse to criticize one thing s/he does that bothers you each day of the week. If that seems feasible and you’re ready to increase the challenge to yourself, you could notice and appreciate each day how one of your spouse’s differences is complementary to how you would think about or do something. You might even notice that the reason your spouse puts matching lids on all the clean tupperware (as opposed to separating the lids and containers to conserve space) is to conserve time for you when you pack your lunch in the morning rush- what an endearing difference.
- Track your mileage and your mile markers.
If you can log it, you can change it. It’s helpful to see the mileage count go up when you know you’ve got a long drive ahead. When you’re asking the “are we there yet?” question, you’ll know if you’re getting closer or if you’ve veered off course. Even if the results don’t look promising at the beginning or if they plateau somewhere in the middle, it’s helpful information. You can dissect what factors may be helping or hindering your progress during the days or weeks of slower movement. Because of your honesty tracking yourself throughout the change process, you know that the results are real when they do shape up. Also, having documented success amplifies motivation to keep going. Some days you might find you slipped and blew up at your spouse three times for waiting till the morning of to take out the trash instead of the night before. However because you tracked your critical and appreciative interactions over the course of a few months, you might notice your increase in criticism coincides with a bi-weekly work deadline that makes you more stressed and prone to taking it out on your spouse. You can then vent about the stressor more directly and ask for support instead of letting the escaped steam burn your loved one.
- Invite along passengers.
Just like road trips are more fun with travel buddies, working toward goals are better done with witnesses. Loop in a trusted friend or family member about what you’re trying to achieve and you might get a cheer leader, motivation/ accountability buddy, or better yet, even a team mate. Victories will be heightened when there’s someone supportive to celebrate with and defeats will be easier to recover from when there’s a hand to help you back up. Whatever comes up, you’ll be more congruent as a person if those who witness your defeat also witness your victories. And as much most of us would love to hide our lows and showcase only ours highs, the people who deserve to share the joys of getting to our vistas are those who stick around even during our valleys, so invite witnesses to see both. Maybe you confide in a close friend who has had a similar length relationship. Though somewhat embarrassing to bring up personal challenges, you conquer your fears of being judged and realize both of you have been facing similar difficulties being patient with your partners’ differences. Sharing helps you discover your problems are normal, manageable, and even offer to check in with each other’s progress logs.
- Celebrate and/ or re-calculate.
Sometimes we get on the road and make our arrival within a minute of our ETA and it’s a great time to celebrate. If this happens when you meet your goal, give yourself a few pats on the back, throw yourself a verbal party, treat yourself to a bubble bath, buy you and your spouse tickets to that concert or game you’ve wanted to see, or make time for a double date getaway with your supportive friend and partner. If we can teach our brains to associate our efforts toward our goals with appropriate sized rewards, we maximize the chances of succeeding again. In whichever way that is commensurate with the goal you achieved, reward yourself.
For those other times we run into traffic, take a few wrong turns, we do, as our retired GPS would nostalgically and obnoxiously say, “recalculate.” Revisit what went wrong by studying your log and consider any extraneous factors that may have played a part to deterring your course and try something different. Remember, some have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. If complaining less about your spouse’s forgetfulness in putting away shoes hasn’t motivated him/ her to do it, try moving the shoe rack to a more accessible location where they are commonly removed and showering praise when s/he does put it in. Or if influencing someone else’s behavior proves ineffective, try putting away your spouse’s shoes and replacing the bitter complaints with remembering how your spouse makes you that delightful cappuccino.
Just as traveling any distance is done one step or mile at a time, changes are made up of our small, seemingly insignificant decisions, added up everyday over time. They take a clear vision, careful planning, tracking, support and processing. Our therapists at Laurel Fay and Associates are available and happy to hear about your previous and new year’s goals so please let us know how we can help support you in yours. Cheers to you making your resolution into a reality!!