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Let's be realistic.

Enough time has passed since your New Year’s Resolution for you to admit that it’s just not going to happen. This is normal. The excitement of the New Year - or the shame that another year has passed - is enough to motivate us to say that we’re going to be better this year.

But saying so just isn’t enough.

You want to make things happen?

Our guest blogger Shimmy Feintuch, can show the way.

An Old Story:

If you’re like most people, this isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve been committing and flaking out since you were a pimply-faced teenager. And yet you keep trying! You warrior, you.

You keep committing to lose weight, to start meditating, to stop drinking. You make that commitment, time after time, year after year. You really mean it! And then you cave. You have that drink or that slice of strawberry shortcake. You miss that yoga class. And you give up - again and again.

It’s exhausting, and it never ends up in real change.

Let’s get real. Before we start talking about how to reach your goals, we need to get honest about one crucial ingredient: motivation.

Psychology & Motivation:

About two years ago, I lost a lot of weight - about fifty pounds. In my work as a psychotherapist, I don’t advertise details about myself (Freud would be proud), but my weight loss was quite evident to my clients (Freud would be horrified). I started to get comments. Compliments, mostly, which I accepted graciously.

One of my clients, a thirty-something professional woman, was fixated by my weight loss. She struggled with her own weight issues, and saw my success as a sign of hope for her. She pressed me on what I had done - specific food plans, exercise tips, anything at all to get an edge over her very own battle of the bulge. I was ready to help.

“First”, I said, “you have to want it.”

Her face fell. “Oh.”

And that was it. No more questions.

She wasn’t motivated enough. She knew it. And so she decided to stop pursuing that goal, for now. And - here’s the important point - that’s okay! My client had enough real work to do without the additional guilt of an ill-conceived resolution. 

It’s perfectly okay to say that you are just not ready to take on a project. In fact, we do ourselves a disservice when we try to force ourselves to do things that we’re just not ready to do.

Assessing Motivation:

Ask yourself, “Am I ready for this? Am I willing to work hard and make sacrifices to get what I want?” If the answer is no, it may be that you’re just not ready for this particular change.

Motivation ebbs and flows; it’s based on our emotions, body states, even the weather. Check in with yourself once a week, or at different times of the day. Record your motivation levels in a journal. Be honest about what’s holding you back. Google “how to get motivated.”

And be patient with yourself.

If you keep your dreams on your radar, your motivation will come.

Once you’re motivated – great! You are ready to make a plan.

Let’s use the framework of SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-limited.

Specific:

Our goals need to be specific, so that we can make a clear plan to get what we want. If your goal is to feel better, to lose weight, or to be more conscious of the environment, try to narrow the focus of the goal. Maybe you can start going to therapy, find a diet and exercise plan, or start recycling. More specific goals lead naturally to taking the next step of finding a therapist, committing to an exercise plan, or asking your green friends how to recycle potato peelings.

Measurable:

Size matters. How will you know if you reached your goal? How will you decide when you are skinny enough, successful enough, or serene enough? If we can’t measure our goals, we can’t measure our progress. We can easily lose motivation. Measurable goals allow us to track our progress and see how close we are to getting what we want.

Some things are easier to measure, like weight, or cholesterol levels, or days of sobriety. Some things are not, like levels of mindfulness, success, and happiness.

For goals that are hard to measure, look for ways to make your goal more concrete. For example, if you want to feel more serene, you may choose to meditate daily for a year. That’s measurable. You may want to aim for a specific salary, a specific amount of time spent with your kids, or a maximum amount of time watching TV.

However you measure your goals is up to you. But do find a way to measure them!

Achievable:

Your goal must be something that you can possibly do. You may not be able to lose 100 pounds, buy a bank, or have ten children. If your goals seem out of reach, think of them as possible long term goals, and set something more achievable as a short or moderate term goal. Lose ten pounds, save some money, or start dating!

This is not to put a damper on your dreams. If your dream is to be the first human being on Mars, go for it! But that wouldn’t be an immediate goal. A more achievable goal might be to get into engineering school, or to qualify as an astronaut. Or to get up off of that couch. It all depends where you’re at.

We need to balance over-promising and under-dreaming. Don’t try for something not realistic, but don’t hold yourself back if there’s something you truly want even if it’s hard.

Relevant:

Is your goal relevant to you? Does buying a house in the Hamptons really fit with who you want to be as a person? Will you actually enjoy travelling the world, or do you only want to because swimming with dolphins looks like so much fun on TV?

I used to love the idea of snorkeling. It looked like so much fun! The colorful reefs, the exotic fish, the breathtaking blue-green sea...then I tried it once on a trip to Cancun, and found out that I get seasick -very, very seasick.  Not so breathtaking.

A couple of years later, I went to Jamaica. Why don’t we try snorkeling, I said. Great idea, I thought. (I had actually forgotten about the Cancun fiasco.) Guess what? I still get seasick. Learning to snorkel or scuba dive is not a relevant goal for me.

Whether your goal is relevant or not is really a check on your motivation. Do you know that you want it, or do you just think that you want it? If you’re not sure, but are willing to try, that’s fine. Getting out of your comfort zone is admirable. Go for it!

Time-limited:

Setting a time frame can add some pressure to the process of achieving your goal. This is a good thing. As Billy Joel said, we all respond to pressure.

This is where you put the squeeze on, light the fire under your body parts, and other metaphors that get you going. Figure out a realistic time frame for reaching your goal. And then get up and go! Personally, I like to add a little extra time to allow for imperfection and the frailty of the human condition, but you don’t have to be that melodramatic.

Another tip: break your goal up into little pieces. Don’t let the immensity of your task overwhelm you. Plan out the steps that need to get done, and then focus on one step at a time.

The New You:

New Year’s Resolutions may come from a good place, but they seldom lead to lasting change. I say ditch the New Year’s resolution. Focus your energies on what you want to do when you want to do it.

Change is too important to be limited to one time of year.

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Shimmy Feintuch, LCSW

website: shimmyfeintuch.com

phone: ‪(530) 334-6882

email: shimmyfeintuch@gmail.com

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