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New Year's resolutions: easy to make, hard to keep

It’s 2014 already, so how are those New Year’s resolutions working out? Not so good? No worries. Even if you’ve already failed to quit smoking or go on a diet or run a mile every day, two Gresham psychologists, John Adler and Jay Wilkinson, have advice to help you start over or make those new resolutions stick.

“The one thing you want to do is set yourself up for success and be able to follow through,” said Wilkinson, of Western Psychological & Counseling Service.

Sometimes people get swept up in the enthusiasm of New Year’s Eve and they overreach or make resolutions that are too broad or too much, and that increases chances of failure, which can lead to feeling depressed, Wilkinson said.

“Saying I’m going to lose weight is not a bad resolution, but it’s so broad, what does it really mean?” Wilkinson said. “If you lose one week and gain it back the next, does that count? It’s better to reflect ahead of time. The best resolutions aren’t those that occur in the moment.”

That means giving the change you want to make plenty of thought ahead of time, he said. And if your goal seems too broad, use a tool that many therapists use called SMART goals, which stands for setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific.

“A lot of behavioral health people use this idea. It helps clients in therapy choose goals to be able to achieve them and then have a sense of achievement,” Wilkinson said.

John C. Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and author of “Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions,” believes that half of all Americans break their New Year’s resolutions by mid-January. But he also recommends using SMART goals and other ways to “trick” yourself into success such as: change your routine, track your progress on a calendar, reward small achievements, make it public — tell your friends — and don’t get too upset if you slip up now and then because that can strengthen your resolve to succeed. Learn more at www.changeologybook.com.

Adler, a psychologist in private practice on North Main Avenue, said setting new goals this time of year is natural for humans, but goals should be specific to increase chances of success, and short-term goals work better.

“Instead of making a goal for three months from now, how about a goal for this next week?” he said. “It forces you to break it into smaller, easier steps.”

Adler said writing things down also helps him, but people who are less organized have trouble keeping resolutions because they don’t look back at a list, even if they made one, so getting more organized helps. For example, if you want to exercise three times a week, write down each day and time that you exercise on a calendar and then go back and assess your progress, even if you don’t get the results you want.

“It isn’t the end of everything if you don’t succeed, and if it doesn’t work, don’t give up,” he said. “Reassess, have a meeting with yourself and figure out what to do.”

Setting small goals helps because they’re easier to attain and build on.

“One philosophy says ask for a lot and expect a little, but what happens is that people give up too easily,” he said.

Wilkinson also said those who have a hard time at self-discipline will have a harder time keeping resolutions, so people should consider their own nature in setting goals or making resolutions.

“Round down on how much you are going to be able to do,” he said. “It’s another way to set up for success, and you can always add things in later on. But it’s better to think about it and in some way do mental preparation.”

Wilkinson said he’s pretty good at self-discipline, but he made only two resolutions this year: to read for a half-hour each day to his 2-year-old daughter and join in National Novel Writing Month in November, where participants write a novel in one month.

“You use every spare second you have, and it forces you to do it and not be critical of yourself,” he said.

Not being too self-critical is important in keeping resolutions, but consistency is the key, Adler said.

“It’s not rocket science or anything brand new,” he said. “If you really want to get things done, you have to do it consistently.”

Give yourself rewards for accomplishments, he said, but that shouldn’t mean getting a hot fudge sundae as a reward for going to the gym. Like resolutions, rewards need to be meaningful, he said.

“Use another incentive, like relax and watch a movie, take your wife out or listen to music instead of doing chores,” he said.

If there’s something in your life you want to change but can’t, seeking the help of a professional therapist is a good idea, Wilkinson said, because changing behavior is their specialty.

“A lot of people come to therapy because they’re at a stuck point in their lives,” he said. “If you could get through it on your own, you would have, but therapists can help move a person forward.”



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