Tips for Keeping Resolutions (Delaware Coast Press)

It’s a proven fact that champagne, eggnog and cocktail wieners can combine to produce some pretty outlandish New Year’s resolutions. ‘Say what you mean and mean what you say’ doesn’t seem to matter as much when you’re balancing a lampshade on your head AND counting backwards from 10. But, in the harsh reality of January 1st, integrity will still be a key ingredient of good mental health. In short, any promise that’s based solely on a date has a very good chance of failing.

Success with anything, from New Year’s resolutions to financial commitments, comes down to one vital element: Setting goals. And procrastination can be the biggest enemy of effective follow-through as our forgotten goals gather dust on the psychological shelf — out of sight and out of mind.

Learning to convert your desires into reality is important to your psychological well-being. As this becomes a habit, you’ll feel better about yourself as you become a more effective spouse, parent, partner, employee, boss, whatever. Indeed, in extreme cases, failing to follow through on goals can lead to depression and a feeling of powerlessness over the ability to get anything done. Avoid that emotional paralysis by setting goals that you can keep. Here are 9 tips for doing just that:

1. Be Realistic. Just as you shouldn’t make promises to others that you’re not prepared to keep, you shouldn’t make them to yourself either. You’re the only person you can’t fool, and you’re probably the most unforgiving. This can spark psychological issues.

2. Examine Past Attempts. Examine what didn’t work in the past. Don’t just go on gut feelings; they can help get things started, but you have to look at the facts to make sure you don’t repeat mistakes.

3. Give Yourself Credit. If you quit smoking for 8 weeks last year, but started again, at least give yourself credit for what you did. What sustained you for those two months? How can you keep it going this time?

4. Take Baby Steps. With goals that seem overwhelming, create momentum with ‘mini-goals.’ The energy will increase over time, until achieving your goals becomes a habit.

5. Beware of External Influences! Friends, family, even the news (or what passes for news) can hinder your efforts. For example, someone trying to stop drinking will usually avoid bars. Someone trying to start a business will do well to not talk about his ideas with negative (or jealous) people. Do you really think that the media pundits and ‘experts’ would still be trudging to work every day if they REALLY had the lowdown on stocks, interest rates and the rest? Look past the bright lights and see all that vapid prognostication for what it is.

6. Visualize Yourself. Create a picture in your mind of how you’ll feel and what you’ll be doing once your goal is accomplished. This sends a message to your subconscious that achievement is possible. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

7. Monitor your Progress. Don’t obsess, but stay in contact with the reality of what you’re doing or not doing. For example, people trying to lose weight find it useful to keep track of how their clothes fit.

8. Talk Nicely to Yourself. Don’t punish yourself with words like “stupid” or ‘idiot.’  Stick with the facts: “What’s working or not working?” Be objective, and guiltlessly enjoy positive feedback when it’s deserved.

9. Select Help Carefully. Talk to somebody you respect to help you see honest errors in your decisions. Beware of well-meaning but self-serving agendas that loved ones may have when advising you. It’s easy to fall into evasions and rationalizations, and a truly objective observer can be helpful.

On that note, this objective observer would like to wish all of you, particularly those who regularly respond to this column, a Happy New Year filled with confidence, self-esteem and psychological health. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Life is still — and always will be — a beach!