Mind and Body

How to actually make changes that stick



How do you actually make the changes you aspire to solidify in 2014? In surveying over 3,000 people, British psychologist Richard Wiseman found nearly 90 percent of resolutions don’t stick, invoking the question, how do we create enduring positive changes?

In thinking about change, it’s crucial to notice the chief barrier to improving our lives: rigid rules. You can commit to make a change any day of the year, not just the first of the month or the year – as official as these ‘new beginnings’ may seem.

Every day, I hear patients persuasively say, “On Monday I’ll start my diet,” “After my birthday, I’ll begin to exercise,” “Tomorrow, I’ll be more productive,” “When I’m 25, I’ll stop smoking cigarettes,” “At 2 pm, I’ll stop Internet surfing…” Yet, we don’t need to wait for a set time or date to embark on an important life change, and setting such markers means you lose today, this month or even this year.

As an on and off meditator, I recently decided to get serious. I resolved to practice meditation for 20 minutes each day, starting on December 1st. Since then, I have missed a couple of days. But despite those missed days, sitting down to meditate whenever I can facilitates building mindfulness. Waiting until next month to try meet my goal only builds procrastination.

I recently bought a dry erase board I keep in my kitchen to track my daily goals, which include practicing yoga, meditating, engaging in cardio and acting with kindness. Checking these off each day provides me with more opportunities to actually live the way I hope to live.  I would feel pretty hopeless if I only had the chance to check off my chart each January.

Self-monitoring, or keeping track of behaviors you hope to change, serves as a cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy, a scientifically-based way to make enduring changes. Don’t just set a New Year’s resolution once a year, keep track and come back at any moment. We often act hopeless in the face of setbacks. But imperfection makes you human. Practice the courage to come back and try again.

Here are four tips to maximize your resolutions now, not just once a year:

1. Think big
What do you hope to change?  Set a couple of intentions. To illustrate, let’s imagine you hope to increase your productivity this year.

2. Think small
Set a smaller goal to help you move toward your value of increased productivity. Perhaps your smaller step is to record your sleep and wake times to try to work on sleeping seven hours a night, so you can be more productive during the day.  Be an honest reporter and keep track. What time are you going to bed? What time are you waking up? How would you rate your productivity?

3. Observe thoughts
“It’s the weekend, I can sleep in!” “I’ll never change why bother?” Getting stuck in these types of thoughts can get in the way of important life goals.You don’t have to listen to thoughts that don’t serve you.

4. It’s ok, try again now
You realize you’ve had an unproductive week. You’ve been staying up late and sleeping in and you lost track. Life isn’t an airplane where you either board or you miss your non-refundable flight. We are all human and trying our best. Cheer yourself on and try again. To a year of resolutions at each moment!

Jennifer Taitz  is a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York City. She is the author of End Emotional Eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Cope with Difficult Emotions and Develop Healthy Relationship to Food. Visit her website drjennytaitz.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter to learn more.