Mind Matters: Instead of resolutions, make goals

ELINOR STANTON

In less than two weeks we will celebrate the closing of 2009, with traditional parties to acknowledge another ending. To mark special events, as well as the passage of time, we celebrate endings and beginnings, birthdays and anniversaries, spending more time in traveling down memory lane as each year passes.

It is human nature to review what has passed and determine what, if anything we want to change. If we are wise, we will look for what we feel positive about and give ourselves credit for each and every accomplishment. We will not look back with regrets, but with openness regarding what we have learned. Regrets and bitterness don’t feed the soul.

At the end of any milestone it always seems auspicious to clean the slate and begin anew. Seldom does a diet or exercise plan begin mid-week. We correlate new beginnings with an artificial new block of time. So it is with New Year’s resolutions, which most of us break within an hour or two – a week at best. The ending of an old year feels like an eraser for all our failings, fuels high hopes for great improvements and convinces us that somehow, we will finally acquire permanent will power.

Here are some ideas for a different way of viewing those great intentions you desire for next year. Instead of making resolutions, consider one or two changes you would like to make in your life. Invite your spouse, a partner or best friend to share these thoughts, perhaps make notes. Then identify and list the steps you must take to achieve these hopes and write them down as goals.

For example, if you are tired, stressed and irritable from trying to accomplish too much, think of your options. You might work less. Then you would earn less. Could you see yourself buying less? If so, the first step would be to identify where and how you could cut costs. Make a plan, rather than a resolution, for how you can decrease your spending in one or two small ways. Reward yourself by planning more fun and relaxation with your newly acquired extra time. Write everything down and post it in a conspicuous place.

If you hope to break a bad habit, list all the advantages of doing so in one column. In a second column, list each positive outcome in order of importance to you. If smoking is the issue, consider the money you can save, how much better you would feel, smell and look. You might for example, decide to whiten your teeth with cigarette money. Be sure to include all the benefits to your health.

Find a buddy or partner with whom to share your goals and obtain the support you need to stay on track. Or, perhaps a group of friends can meet regularly to support a fresh way of starting the new year. Begin your meetings by sharing each success, no matter how insignificant, and then identify one small action you will take to stay on track.

New Year’s resolutions are made with a goal of bettering ourselves. An integral part of self-improvement is inner growth, which can only happen through a positive, non-judgmental attitude. Simply learning to be patient with one’s shortcomings fosters growth. Don’t condemn yourself; call on your support system. Focus on making changes without creating further stress; challenge yourself to find inner peace through positive thinking. Have faith in your ability to achieve what you want.

Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island, with 33 years experience as a therapist, both in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and the University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Stanton also is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy and trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Comments and questions may be submitted to etseven@aol.com or 394-2861.

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