Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

You Say You Want a Resolution?

Advice for making resolution that stick

When I asked my friends to suggest topics for my first blog post of the new year, Jim thought up this one: Do you remember what your resolutions were last year? How'd you do?

So, it's the fourth day of the new year. Do you know where your resolutions are?

Are you completely annoyed right now? Have you already read 50 posts about guilting you into making and keeping New Year's resolutions?

Don't worry. As I shared last year, I really don't like New Year's resolutions. Instead, I hope to offer a little advice for those who, perhaps because of experiencing depression or anxiety, have a hard time with resolutions.

What's hard about making resolutions:

  • If you experience anxiety, you may feel paralyzed by a fear of doing anything that's less than perfect. Thinking big gets overwhelming, and it becomes easier to do nothing rather than to try to do something small or incremental.
  • If you're depressed, brushing your teeth is hard. When your perception is clouded by depression, everyday actions can be challenging. Making a big life change is that much more difficult.
  • Being accountable to your resolutions increases stress. When you already have a lot going on personally, adding another to-do can feel like a burden.

How to make it easier to make resolutions:

  • Think small. Pie-in-the-sky thinking - what we usually do when we make resolutions - is great for generating a vision, but less great for making something a reality. This little video is a great reminder of how doing something "small" can make a big difference. On a personal level, after years of being afraid I couldn't do it right, I started practicing mindfulness meditation. I've been going to a half-hour sitting each week for about 10 weeks. I don't always "do it right." Sometimes, I sit for a half hour, my brain racing. But, I go back each week, because sometimes I feel exactly how I had hoped I'd feel, my mind at rest.
  • Three weeks. Last year, I wanted to go to a yoga class that started at 6:15 a.m. The class was a three-minute walk from my home, and I could come home to shower and go to work. It was brutal to get up before the sun in freezing temperatures, but I told myself, based on what I know from behavioral science, that if I could go for three weeks in a row, it would become a habit. And it did.
  • If it doesn't work out, don't worry. From one worrier to another, this suggestion might be the hardest for me to offer. It sounds silly, but it's true: Every day is a new day and offers an opportunity to try again. If it really doesn't work out, pick something else. This year, I said, "I don't want to share my resolutions with anyone, in case I can't do them." Resolutions don't need to be public declarations. That way, you can make adjustments as needed.

I was surprised this year to hear from so many people how arbitrary they find the new year. So much pressure is put on us to have plans, to know what we're doing, and to have major life-changing goals in mind by January 1. Opportunities to make life changes present themselves all year long. Don't lose hope that, just because you didn't start on January 1, change is impossible.

Copyright 2012 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.


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