By Ted Crawford, LMFT
Walk before you run
Many people welcome January with a full-body hug, as it means they’ve gotten through yet another holiday of drama and craziness. For others, the holidays are time for a little self-indulgence, and January gives notice that playtime is over. And many will start thinking about New Year’s resolutions.
There’s something about the clean slate at the first of the year that compels us to attempt change. But someone said that resolutions are like babies — fun to make, but a struggle to maintain. Of course, you know the rest of the story; what starts off as a genuine plan to improve your life falls flat before you can say, “I’ll have a salad.”
Here’s an idea — forget the whole first-of-the-year kick to upgrade your life. Your body doesn’t keep track of the date anyway, it just knows that its arteries are hosting a bit more goo, its gut, thighs and caboose seem to be taking up more space, and its muscles have gotten, well, less muscly.
And it’s not all about looking good. Our mental, emotional and spiritual lives could use some attention too. And the mind, heart and soul are like the body; they couldn’t care less what time of year it is, they just want some healthy stimulation.
But just as a vehicle has to be in the slower first gear in order to transition into the faster second gear, the different parts of our being need the process of working their way up the scale of intensity. If you try to force them into abrupt change, don’t expect their full cooperation. Despite what we want to believe, decades of research (and our own personal experiences) show this isn’t how most human beings operate.
Several factors determine whether or not we can incorporate lasting change, so unless you’re some transformation guru (which you are not, I bet), read on as we address a few of these factors with the following tips.
1. Identify one change that you want to make. ONE. Trust me on this (you can always add more later).
2. Be specific. We have to know what reaching the goal looks like, and the more specific it is, the easier it is to envision. “Connecting more with loved ones” could mean a lot of things, but “Giving a weekly shout to my sister and nephews in Birmingham” means just that. Likewise, “reducing debt” is a great goal, but first pare it down to “paying off the credit card that carries the stupidest balance,” etc.
3. Start slowly! It’s better to be the tortoise and not the hare. There is less stumbling this way. An hour of circuit training at the YMCA five times a week? It’s probably not going to happen right now. Try something like walking for 15 minutes, three times a week.
4. Expect some struggles and setbacks. So in a moment of weakness you smoke that cigarette, or maybe you’re in the kitchen late one night minding your own business and a gigantic brownie leaps into your mouth! It’s okay! These “relapses” are a normal part of any endeavor to improve, and if you freak out or beat up on yourself, it won’t help. Matter of fact, it’ll just cause a bigger, more complicated battle.
5. Try not to do it alone. I don’t mean that you have to get someone to adopt the same goal and do it with you (although that helps immensely), just that you should share your goals with someone else and get their support. Talk to them about your progress and struggles.
Recap: Unrealistic expectations will sabotage the most well-intentioned plan, so scale them down. As I said, you can always strengthen the demands on yourself later, after the initial ones have become habit. It’s not a race, so please take your time.
Have a great year — or start off with a “decent” year and work your way up!
Ted Crawford, LMFT, provides psychotherapy for clients through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) of Forrest General Hospital and at the Gratitude and Pine Grove Outpatient Services (PGOS) programs of Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services.