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Small Steps Vs. New Year’s Resolutions

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January 8, 2021

It’s January, and each year, millions of us commit to better ourselves. We embark into the new year with optimism and resolve. Dedicated to our cause and confident in our strength of will, we step into new frontiers of personal growth with graceful sure-footedness. Whether it’s changing unhealthy habits or establishing positive routines, our New Year’s resolutions glow with our noble intentions. And, as expected, we reach and exceed our goals without strain or difficulty, each and every year…

Or, we make a few broad resolutions, go to the gym twice, and create a new February resolution to try again in 11 months. In fact, according to the U.S. News & World Report, roughly 80% of us abandon our New Year’s resolution by mid-February. Resolutions are just much easier to make than to keep.

Small Steps Vs. New Year’s Resolutions

In many cases, the problem with our resolutions is their sweeping mandates, such as quitting smoking or losing weight. Making huge lifestyle changes is not easy, and one pitfall may be the “matter over mind” attitude towards resolutions. For example, when we resolve to lose weight or stop smoking, we set the goal without considering the necessary mindset or a strategy to achieve the goal.

The secret to making lasting changes may be to adopt a more incremental way of thinking, allowing our minds (and emotions) the time to evolve along with our new, unfamiliar, and sometimes challenging routines. To help ensure we stick to resolutions or positive lifestyle changes, there’s a few ways to think small.

1: Do some extensive planning.

It takes a bit of planning to achieve any goal, especially a major lifestyle change. Write down your particular goal and the small steps necessary to achieve that goal. By creating a game plan, you’re more prepared for inevitable obstacles and challenges. Listing the underlying reasons for your resolution may also be helpful. In essence, planning helps to tangibly pinpoint the “how” and the “why,” offering both navigation and motivation.

2: Keep a sharp focus.

As stated, we often conceive of resolutions in broad strokes (i.e., lose weight, quit smoking, etc.). However, according to the American Psychological Association, focusing on smaller, more attainable goals is far more effective for sustaining behavioral changes. Instead of weight loss as a resolution, set a goal to walk or run three times a week. Creating an abstract goal doesn’t lend itself to effective routine planning or mindful accountability. After all, your small goals can evolve into more challenging goals as you progress.

3: Accept failure and move forward.

Habits are hard to break (and to create). Some studies indicate that it takes over two months to create a new habit, while you may’ve spent years developing unhealthy ones. Point being, sneaking a cigarette or missing a gym day isn’t failure; it’s human. When you encounter a setback, view it as a learning opportunity. What triggered it? Could you have planned better? Once you’ve answered your questions, adapt and move forward.

4: Find Support.

Support offers accountability, motivation, and camaraderie. Making lifestyle changes is hard enough, but there’s no reason to fly solo. Whether it’s finding a gym buddy or joining a smoking cessation group, there’s surely someone who shares your particular goal. If nothing else, share your resolution with friends and family to incorporate your goal into daily life.

These goal-setting strategies are also applicable in addiction recovery. By creating a clear plan, focusing on small goals, accepting failure, and finding support, we’re better equipped to sustain healthy and sober lifestyles. If your New Year’s resolution is to achieve sobriety, then your first step may be to seek treatment. Like resolutions in mid-February, a commitment to achieve sobriety can dissipate with time, no matter how unshakable our resolve. However, with a clear plan and dedicated support system, sustaining and thriving in recovery is more achievable with each small step.

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