We all make 'em and we all break 'em. There's something about the beginning of the year that makes us throw caution to the winter winds and begin uttering totally unrealistic goals as our New Year's Resolutions:
* I will lose 10 (20, 30, 40....) pounds by the Fourth of July.
* I will quit smoking.
* I will read all the New York Times' bestsellers.
* I will exercise for an hour a day every day this year.
How many of these will we actually accomplish? None, most likely. We will make a good effort at the beginning, but at the first sign of trouble, we'll give up and then wallow in Post Resolution Guilt, all the way to the next New Year's.
There are better ways to achieve goals than to simply state them and hope for the best. A few years ago I interviewed Dr. P. Christopher Coburn, a psychologist, who told me there are three readiness levels we must go through before we can make long-lasting behavioral changes in our lives:
1). The first stage is known as "pre-contemplation," which is the time most New Year's resolutions are made. Even though the notion of change is appealing, we haven't really given the actual realities of change much thought.
Dr. Coburn said that at this point most people are not really ready to make a change in their lives, and if they try to, their efforts are doomed to failure.
2). The second stage is one of "contemplation," when we finally begin to consider what's really involved in making this change. We are becoming a little more realistic, but we're still not ready to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed.
3). The third stage is when we make the "actual commitment to change," finally realizing what we must do to be successful.
Dr. Coburn says this is when we face up to the facts: We will have to work hard at changing; it won't come easy and there will be periods of discomfort we'll have to get through without allowing ourselves to fall back on old habits.
We also have to realize that if our old habits, the ones we want to change, are stress-reducing crutches for us - such as eating sweets or lighting a cigarette when we feel tense - we will have to learn new ways to cope with our stress.
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Coping with stress has been the subject of untold volumes written by experts and read by all of us who are looking for easy answers. According to Dr. P. Christopher Coburn, a psychologist, we all deal with stress in three different ways:
* Fight (negotiate)
* Flee (removing ourselves from the situation)
* Flow (learning to change our own internal response to external stress)
In other words, to borrow a trite phrase, we must learn to "go with the flow" by adapting new ways to conquer our anxieties such as taking a walk, learning and using relaxation techniques or by exercising (rather than reaching for a cookie or a cigarette).
But even when we begin to practice healthier stress reducers, Dr. Coburn says, relapses to old behaviors are inevitable. If we learn to expect them, though, they won't completely sidetrack us from our goals. Most of all, he adds, we must set realistic goals for ourselves and not put ourselves at risk of failure by trying to do too much too soon.
Good advice for a New Year.
By Teresa K. Flatley