Champagne and a couple dozen cocktail wieners can sometimes result in pretty outlandish New Year’s resolutions. It can be a challenge to say what you mean and mean what you say when you’re balancing a lampshade on your head. But in the harsh reality of the next morning, integrity will still be a key ingredient of good mental health. In short, any promise that’s based solely on the date has a very good chance of failing.
Success with any resolution comes down to one vital element: Setting goals. Procrastination is the biggest enemy of an effective follow-through, as our forgotten objectives gather dust in the psychological attic.
Learning to translate your wishes into reality is a critical part of your psychological well-being. The better you formulate your goals, the more likely it is that you’ll achieve them. As this becomes a habit, you’ll feel better about yourself and you’ll become a more effective spouse, boss, parent, employee, whatever. Consistent failure to follow through can lead to a feeling of powerlessness over one’s ability to get anything done. And that can lead to depression.
Avoid that paralysis by setting goals you can keep! Here are nine tips for doing just that:
- Be realistic. Just as you shouldn’t make promises to others that you’re not prepared to keep, you shouldn’t make false promises to yourself either. You’re the only person you can’t fool, and you’ll probably be the most unforgiving.
- Examine past attempts. Try to identify what didn’t work in the past. Don’t just go on “gut feelings.” Gut feelings can help get things started, but you have to examine the facts to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes again.
- Give yourself credit. If you had partial successes in the past, give yourself credit for them! If you quit smoking for 8 weeks last year, at least give yourself credit for what you did. What sustained you for those two months? How can you keep it going this time?
- Take baby steps. With goals that seem overwhelming, create momentum by setting “mini-goals.” The energy may build slowly, but achieving your goals can become a habit.
- 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 shouldn’t 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 vapid prognostication for what it is.
- Visualize yourself. Create a picture in your mind about how you’ll feel and what you’ll be doing once your goal is accomplished. This sends a positive, self-fulfilling message to your subconscious.
- Monitor your progress. Be objective, but don’t obsess. 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.
- Talk nicely to yourself. Don’t punish yourself with words like “stupid” or “idiot.” Stick with the facts: “What’s working or not working here?” or “What’s the next step?” Be objective, and guiltlessly enjoy positive feedback when it’s deserved.
- Select help carefully. Talk to somebody you respect to help you see through honest errors. Beware of well-meaning but self-serving agendas that loved ones may have when advising you. An objective outside observer can help spot evasions and rationalizations.
On that note, this objective outside observer would like to wish all of you, particularly the many people who respond to this column with their thoughts and suggestions, 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 — and will always be — a beach!
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