NEW YORK — How are those New Year’s resolutions coming?
Do you cringe every time you break the rules of the diet you promised to start last month? Do you tally up all the days of gym membership you've paid for without setting foot inside? Do you convince yourself you'll stop smoking — as soon as you finish this pack?
As March begins, many people have consciously or unconsciously given up on their goals for the new year. But don't fear — while your body doesn't need the start of a new year to make changes, your mind needs a new outlook to stop beating yourself up each time you fall short of your goals.
Here are some ideas on how to use positive reflection to get yourself back on track, along with a few suggestions on how to cultivate this practice:
1. Give Yourself Credit for What You've Already Done
For many people, the turning of the calendar is inspiration to focus on what needs fixing, adding or changing.
But in the rush to think about improvements, we can sometimes overlook things going well that we have been working on over the past year, or several years. That slow, steady progress on goals that aren't usually first on the list in the typical fitness-centric New Year's resolutions can be the most meaningful for our health and well-being.
That includes goals such as building better relationships, using stress management techniques and connecting with one’s inner emotional world.
I've found with my clients that when they overlook these positive changes, however small and incremental, they can be more likely to feel disappointed and depressed in the face of seeming failures.
When that happens, I recommend they focus on the power of positive psychology.
2. Positive Psychology: It's Not Just for Pollyannas
Positive Psychology is the principle that while all people can face challenges and distress, they can focus on their strengths, assets and resilience in order to heal emotional issues and highlight what makes life worth living.
In my experience, when a client is fixated on a problem that feels intractable, it's often helpful to refocus on what is going well, where progress is being made and what’s changed for the better over the course of their lives, instead of rehashing current or past problems that feel irresolvable.
Recognizing the small positives of our lives helps us feel more empowered to make life decisions that might help us achieve major goals we desperately want to achieve.
3. Measure Progress in Manageable Increments
Sometimes when we're in a challenging place, the tendency is to focus on what we think we lack in our lives. For example, you might think, “I’m still unmarried,” or “I’m still angry at my mother/father.” While it’s important to acknowledge these thoughts and feelings, positive psychology urges us to be sure to include what is going right in our lives.
For example, instead of saying, “I’m unhappy at work,” you might say, “I’m unhappy at work but I’m taking steps to change my career.”
Instead of saying, “I’m still angry about my childhood,” you might try: “There are still things unresolved in my childhood, but I’m much less angry and triggered than I was five years ago.”
4. The Healing List
The use of journaling has long been a common practice tool in therapy. A journaling technique called the Healing List seeks to reflect on the healing you have done in the past year or years and therefore foster a more positive outlook.
To give it a try, start by giving yourself an opportunity to think about recent mental or emotional difficulties. This can be stress you may be feeling about relationships, workplace issues, family problems, anxiety, depression or other mood issues.
Next, make a list of these experiences that have been healed, or are in the process of healing. You can write them down in a book, type into a phone or tablet, or even draw these experiences.
You have leeway here, but remember to only write down the experiences of healing, not those issues that continue to be problematic. Just gently remind yourself that there will be other time to focus on the negative, and now is not that time.
To further augent your Healing List, spend a couple of minutes expressing gratitude for all that "works" in your life.
For example, you can think or write about your gratitude that your body's immune system has staved off infection this winter. Or, you can express gratitude for the people in your life who support you on your personal journey. You can even express gratitude for your favorite food. It all counts toward keeping you motivated towards your health and wellness goals.
Other common gratitude practices include an exercise of finding something to be thankful for starting with each letter of the alphabet. An example might be "The letter D: I am grateful for my doctor, who helped me heal."
And, for those who want the quickest, simplest gratitude practice, just take a few moments and think about the three things you are most grateful for right now.
When it comes to our health and wellness goals, it's helpful to take the long view. Wellness is a marathon, not a sprint, so remember when you fall short of your goals one day, that doesn't mean you have to sabotage your goals for the rest of the week, year or decade.