Small Changes: Making Resolutions That Stick

With the new year often comes new resolutions to make changes in our lives. Frequently, these resolutions can be big, sweeping changes: losing significant amounts of weight, stopping smoking or drinking, changing careers, or training for a marathon. While the idea of making such dramatic changes is appealing to us, the reality is often very difficult.  Research supports that only a small minority of people who make New Year’s resolutions succeed in the long term, and approximately half fall short of their goals within the first month.

Why does this happen? There are several reasons a resolution might fail to stick. A primary reason is motivation: what are your reasons for making this change? A clear motive is like a car’s ignition: it starts the engine that will power your change. Once your engine is started, are you in an environment that will give it fuel and help you maintain your change? For example, if you resolve to stop smoking but everyone in your house still smokes, it will harder to maintain that change. If you strive to eat out less but you don’t keep food stocked in your refrigerator, it is will be harder to maintain that change. 

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Another important factor is how attainable your goal feels to you. Do you have a specific plan for how you are going to achieve the changes you want to make? Are you setting yourself up for success? Setting shorter-term, attainable goals can be a great way to break up a resolution into more realistic chunks. If you’ve tried to work out every day and find yourself lapsing after the first week, consider making a commitment to work out three times a week and see if you man maintain that to start. If you have resolved to clean out your whole house but find yourself quitting before you even start due to the sheer prospect of the project, then start with one room.

A final question to consider is: To whom are you accountable? Having someone to report to on your progress and provide social support can be helpful in maintaining long term change—in fact, for many people social support is essential to maintaining resolutions past the first month. So ask yourself who you have that can provide that support and accountability.

For people who have struggled to maintain behavioral changes, counseling can be a good source of support and accountability. You will have a professional help you identify goals that are realistic for you and provide you with the support and recommendations you need to help your changes stick. So this year if you find yourself falling into old behavior patterns, consider making the resolution to seek additional help and see some long-term change in your life.  

Dr. Molly McAshan 

References

Berkman, E.T. (2018). The neuroscience of goals and behavior change: Lessons learned for consulting psychology. Consulting Psychology Journal, 70, 28-44.

Norcross, J. & Vangarelli, D.J. (1988). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse. 1. 127-134

Identifying Your Needs

How do we determine our needs?

The first step is to gift yourself this question: “What do I need?”

The second step is:  Listen to yourself.

If this seems novel for you, it might be challenging at first. However, you might be surprised at the outcome. One way to listen to yourself is to pay attention to your body.

What do you notice in yourself?

When you’re feeling disconnected, stressed, overwhelmed, or empty, one thing you can do is check in with your body. It might be giving you some important information. You might notice muscle tension, knots in your stomach, or frantic energy in your extremities.

Take a scan of your body and notice which parts feel tense. What is your body telling you? Perhaps you are thirsty or hungry. Perhaps you need to stretch or walk around for a few minutes. Maybe your breathing is shallow and you need to take in some deep breaths.

Next, take stock of your emotions. What do you feel inside? Are you antsy, calm, inspired, in love? Confused? Feeling pulled in two directions? Is how you’re feeling inside matching what you’re portraying outside, or are you wearing a mask? Do you like how you feel, or are you judging yourself for it?

Give yourself the time and space to check in. Most of us have very busy lives and we have to fight hard to check in with ourselves amidst lifes’s demands. Whether it’s that split second between when you awake and arise from the bed, in the car, waiting for your coffee order to be made, or walking the dog in the morning, you can develop a routine of checking in with yourself to assess your needs.

Listen to what you’ve ignored

This might sound paradoxical. However, most of us have needs we ignore for one reason or another. Ask yourself what they are. They could be as simple as physical needs. You might be hungry, thirsty, or tired and you may feel disconnected from what your body is telling you.

Your need might be more complicated such as, “I should let go of that toxic friendship, but I like being needed by my friend” or “I know I should have quit my job years ago.” You may wish to ask yourself what made you decide to ignore your intuition about the friendship or job. We all have our reasons for ignoring what otherwise might be a healthy or meaningful choice, even if we don’t yet understand what they are.

Listening to yourself can be a vulnerable process. It takes time and patience to let yourself connect with potential doubts. Perhaps there was a faint voice of doubt in your mind before getting married, or an unsettling internal conflict over whether to have a child. Maybe you regret the “practical” major you chose in college. Listening to yourself can be scary because you might feel pressured to make a change once you better understand your needs. Change can be difficult, especially when consequences are unknown. This is one reason many us ignore our needs….sometimes it’s easier to maintain the status quo.

However, when we survey ourselves and assess what needs we have ignored, we can begin to validate the unheard desires, dreams, and feelings. Even if you ignore your needs, they are there living inside you and creating disconnection. By giving yourself a voice, maybe even for the first time, you have a chance to move toward wholeness.

Consider this list of needs to jump-start your process.

 This is a needs inventory I often provide to my clients to help get the juices flowing about possible needs they might have. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. Sometimes putting language to our needs can help us understand ourselves better.  

https://www.cnvc.org/Training/needs-inventory

 You will thank yourself for this gift.

If you can simply give yourself the space to sit with this idea that you have needs, and further that you are able to start identifying your needs, you may be able to rebuild – or perhaps build for the first time – your sense of connection with yourself. What an amazing gift!

-Dr. Keller, February 04, 2017

The Need to Know Your Needs

Inspired by both my brave and vulnerable clients as well as earlier versions of myself…I’ve come to the conclusion that a pressing issue for many of us is rooted in our inability to identify our own needs.

As I digest clients stories and look in their watery eyes, gently asking, “what did you need in that moment?” it is striking to me how often the answer is, “I don’t know.” 

Do you know what you need?

Many of us are “trained” to minimize or ignore our needs. Perhaps it derives from an unspoken or spoken family rule that the “greater good” of others is prioritized over one’s individual needs. Often neglecting our own wants in efforts for others is praised and seen as “unselfish.”  Other times ignoring own needs, can be a learned survival skill. Some of us never learned to identify our own needs, simply because one need took priority - hijacking our ability to identify other needs. These needs may have been practical – such as having to get a job at a young age to help pay the bills or raising your younger siblings while your parents worked. These needs may have been emotional – such as needing to please your parents through grades or sports to earn their approval. Either way, as time goes by many of us lose touch with ourselves. The muscle that helps us to identify our needs begins to atrophy. 

Have you lost yourself?

Disconnection from our needs results in disconnection from ourselves. When we feel fragmented – all over the place – or “off” – these feelings can serve as a warning sign that some of our needs are lacking nourishment.

Having needs can be scary.

Identifying our needs can feel vulnerable. If I acknowledge my deep need for intimacy and connection, what if I’m rejected? If I’m burned out in my career and want to pursue my passion, what if I don’t make enough money and my family suffers? If I say what I need, who will listen? What will it change? What good will it do?

Unconsciously, many of us avoid facing our fears by focusing on others’ needs while our own voice grows dimmer and more faint. We listen to our partner process their workday, juggle our schedule to make sure the kids are fed and in bed at a reasonable hour, and put in extra hours at work to try to impress the boss. We burn all our fuel on them, ignoring ourselves. We then feel a sense of of disconnection, loneliness, worry, and tiredness. We. Are. Spent. We may even notice resentment toward others for not meeting our needs. We remain unaware of our needs, or consciously put them aside,  yet we experience a sense of loss when they are not met.  

The reality is, we are human.

Humans have needs. Of course, we need food, water, clothing, and shelter. When our basic needs are met, our needs begin to climb up on Maslow’s hierarchy. Sometimes our needs are for adventure or inspiration or a night out with friends. Sometimes we need to apologize. Some times we need not to apologize. Sometimes we need to say no. Sometimes we need to play – to shut down our brains and get creative. Regardless of your particular needs, they remain valid and important. They are a part of you.

What is it like for you to acknowledge that you have needs?

I encourage you to reflect on this idea that you have needs. What comes up for you? I often hear people say they feel “selfish” or “needy.” Many try to discount or minimize their needs. Sometimes people even talk themselves out of their own needs.

Acknowledging your needs as present and honoring them as valid are important steps along the path of feeling more connected and empowered.

You might be jumping ahead of yourself wondering, “How do I know what my needs are?”

Well, stay tuned!  

If this post resonates with you and you are looking for a counselor in Dallas, feel free to contact us! We have daytime and evening hours. We would be be happy to consult with you.

- Dr. Keller and Dr. Mathew