Keeping New Year’s resolutions is ultimately an internal struggle for us all. But there are things you can do to address that struggle and succeed.
Ah, the end of one year and the beginning of another. That contemplative time when the days are dark, the nights are long and we reflect — after waking fitfully at 3 a.m. — on what we’ve done right and wrong for the last 364 days, and then conclude we need a kick in the pants.
In that mood, we make resolutions and intend to follow them, but for most of us, they will be abandoned within the month.
How can we alter that cycle if the need for transformation is real?
Ultimately that’s an internal struggle, but we’ve asked a Seattle life coach, a local psychologist, a financial expert and a professor for their best tips on how to succeed at several of the most common New Year’s resolutions.
Resolution 1: You want to lose that extra 10 pounds or you want to get more exercise and be in good health.
Seattle life coach Lisa Levine of Audacious Health and Wellness says it’s important to first be clear on what changes you want to make, and why.
“It’s always ultimately about how you want to feel — is it that you want to feel better in your clothes or feel sexy without clothes — and then reminding yourself of that.”
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Set yourself up for success: Clean out your kitchen and get rid of “the stuff that triggers you.” Pick a goal and set up an incentive program.
Levine recommends using stickK,a website designed to help people meet wellness goals with financial incentives, having a real-life accountability partner or making an appointment with a life coach.
“Think about what you did last time, why it didn’t work and what you are going to do differently this time.
“If you always start to nosh while cooking at 5 p.m., change the scenario,” Levine said. “Take a walk first, have a healthy snack before you start, turn on music and dance, listen to an audio book.”
Make a commitment to yourself to follow through for at least a month, thereby creating new neural pathways.
“You can teach an old dog new tricks,” she said, “but you have to give it at least four weeks, and the longer you do it, the better it gets.”
If you falter, be gentle with yourself. Beating yourself up is not helpful, Levine said. “You are human. Be nice to yourself and just start over.”
Resolution 2: You finally have a decent job and want to get out of debt, save money and be a better steward of your finances.
Joan Cox, senior vice president of savings products at Navy Federal Credit Union, provided some tips for smart budgeting and saving in the new year.
One of the simplest and most important things to do, she says, is to create a budget and then make a list of long- and short-term financial goals.
A short-term goal — like buying a new television or taking a vacation — is something that you can reach in a relatively short time, she said. A long-term goal might be saving for a down payment on a house.
Making these distinctions helps prioritize spending in the new year, Cox said.
Another important goal is to aim to have three to six months of living expenses saved in case of an emergency. To get started, begin making regular deposits, no matter how small, into a designated savings fund.
Once your emergency fund is solidified, Cox said, start saving money in a certificate or IRA. These tools allow you to earn greater interest on your savings over time.
She also recommends selling what you don’t need and cutting unnecessary expenses, such as premium cable.
If you’re not fluent in financial matters, try to spend 15 minutes a day reading articles on personal savings.
Many financial institutions offer planning tools to help you reach your goals, Cox said.
Resolution 3: You want to have better, more peaceful and meaningful relationships with family members and friends. Or conversely, you want someone out of your life.
Carl Sheperis, the program dean for the College of Social Sciences at University of Phoenix, said that healing difficult relationships is one of the most common resolutions, but also among the trickiest.
“People don’t have much control over the behaviors, actions and feelings other people have,” he said. “What I do is help my clients look at how they can change themselves and allow other people to be responsible for their own change. You have to be receptive. You can’t force them to forgive you, but you can model the behaviors you want changed.”
Sheperis said he teaches people a version of the serenity prayer that goes like this: God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one that I can and the wisdom to know that it’s me.
He advises asking yourself what small steps you can take to be in control of your own wellness.
“That’s where the mindfulness creeps in,” he said. “What we usually do is we see that something is wrong, and we’re not happy and that we need to change it. When we feel the need for change, we start to fight it, which actually makes the thing we are fighting a stronger force.”
Instead, Sheperis recommends, acknowledge your feelings as well as the discomfort of potential change. Then strive for self-acceptance and balance.
Ask yourself what you can realistically change about your troubled relationship. If there are dynamics that can’t be changed, contemplate what can be altered in a short time, say three months.
“One of the things I always say is treat the people you care about dearly, but who make you angry, as if they were a sick friend. Your goal is to treat them with respect and love and dignity, regardless of what they do. Don’t drag up the past. When they say something that’s upsetting, say to yourself, ‘That’s just a comment he’s making,’ ” Sheperis said. “The goal is to be able to listen without reacting.”
When gathering the strength to end a difficult romantic relationship, Sheperis said it’s important to ask yourself what is keeping you from breaking it off.
“Reflect on what is keeping you from making this commitment; understand that something is keeping you there and delaying the process. Ask yourself what you’re getting out of it, and why you are staying.
“From my perspective as a therapist, fear is the big driver,” he said. “Fear of the unknown, fear of being alone. You have to recognize and take control of your fear.”