Many of are in the midst of breaking out new resolutions for change. This entry is designed to increase your odds of success. I’ll review four planning steps and a dozen strategies for promoting effective change.
The first step in the planning phase is to visualize what you like about yourself today. I’m skeptical that your self-improvement project can survive and thrive if you do not know and enjoy your strengths, not only at the start, but consistently throughout. I like a prayer that British psychologist Robert Holden recommends in one of his books: “Oh God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is. Amen.” If you’re in doubt about your strengths, enter the term “strengths” in the search bar above and take some of the assessments you’ll read about.
The second step is to picture yourself as the most fulfilled version of you. What is different about that person? What changes, that are under your control today, would help to get you there?
Third, list the obstacles you’ll experience in taking this voyage. This is a step worthy of your most honest and thorough consideration. What function does the unhealthy behavior serve? What obstacles arise within you when you seek out the healthy, life-giving behavior?
A problem that many of us run into is called “present bias.” The person who we are when we make a resolution–present me–is steely eyed and filled with gritty resolve. However, present me may also be inclined to be harsh (“okay, you really need to stop being so weak!”), excessively ambitious (“I’m going to never yell again!”) or inclined to invest in ways that aren’t always helpful (e.g., purchasing expensive equipment that proves to be impractical). The problem is that present me is not the same person who will be doing the heavy lifting; that person is future me. If present me doesn’t adequately understand future me’s strengths and vulnerabilities, then present me is destined for disappointment. A skilled therapist can also be of great assistance in a deliberation like this. For a referral, click here.
Each of us are like snowflakes, completely unique. Thus, a strategy that helps another person make substantive changes could be a useless idea for you. Use your world’s leading expert knowledge of yourself to develop a plan that is supportive of future you. Use your strengths. Establish support for your vulnerabilities. Some of the following twelve tips may help:
1. Set small regular goals and build from there. Avoid goals like “I’m going to lose 30 pounds.” Instead, try “today I’m going to eat a balanced diet and walk for 20 minutes.” Six months of tortoise behavior will leave you feeling much better than brief bursts of hare behavior. (By the way, if loosing weight is one of your interests, I’d recommend the movie Fed Up. It’s provocative and enlightening.)
2. Try to attach a behavior you want to add to things you routinely do. This link is to a very good YouTube video by psychologist BJ Fogg on this topic.
3. Keep a daily log of those behaviors that are most important to your goal(s). Many self-destructive behaviors occur when we disassociate from ourselves (i.e., only partially notice what we’re doing). Writing your behaviors down combats disassociation and increases the odds that you will remain self-aware and in the moment.
4. Join with others. Two things characterize those who are successful in setting aside self-limiting patterns: they work on themselves and they surround themselves with people who are striving towards the same goal(s). Relying on others could involve partnering with friends, starting counseling, or attending support group meetings.
5. Ask your partners for help. Many people are willing to help your future self reach your present self’s goals. All you need do is swallow your pride (which can be very freeing), share your vulnerabilities and ask for ideas and/or assistance. For example, I know one pair of friends who committed to playing a rotating aerobic game before work each day (e.g., basketball, racquetball, etc.). They rotated the role of cheerleader for those days when one or both of them was tempted to cancel.
6. Establish rewards for yourself. For instance, so many days of completing a desired behavior change earns you a treat. Also, give yourself hefty mental pats on the back for success along the way. Reflecting on three things your grateful for over the course of the past 25 hours, while you’re taking your daily shower, can be one way of doing this.
7. Take lapses as opportunities to learn more about your vulnerabilities and how present you can do a better job of supporting future you. Avoid being cranky, cruel and harsh with yourself as this risks putting your goals further out of reach. I’ll sometimes ask clients, who are parents, to react to themselves as they would react to their child if their child showed a similar lapse (sometimes this involves projecting forward in time and imagining their child at their age, having fallen prey to the same vulnerability).
8. Use music if that motivates you. Start your playlist with the mood your at and then change it gradually towards the mood you want to morph to.
9. Focus your mind on the positive behavior or outcome you want rather than grinding against temptation. Imagining the beach vacation you’ll take with saved money is usually preferred over trying to directly focus on not making an impulse buy.
10. Have present you write encouraging and positive messages for future you. There are numerous wellness apps available to help with this.
11. Make a plan to remove as much temptation as possible from the eye line of future you. As I mentioned above, excessive reliance on willpower is generally to be avoided.
12. If you are a spiritual person, lean on that part of your life as much as you can. A wonderful book that regards using your Higher Power to overcome difficult challenges, is Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr.
Good luck! And, remember:
√ Being in the fight for self-improvement matters at least as much as the outcome.
√ We all fall and fail sometimes.
√ You deserve to treat yourself with kindness, compassion and love at all points throughout your journey.