Making lasting changes in the New Year

Published 9:27 am Monday, December 28, 2015

Why are so many New Years resolutions successful till about mid-February and then abandoned? Local therapists say the momentum drops off from a lack of planning, accountability and realistic goal setting.
They say the New Year is a positive time to set goals, but that it all begins with a change in the thought process and understanding the steps towards the goal.
“The New Year signifies saying goodbye to the old and with celebration, starting fresh,” said counselor Patricia Scott. “It’s human nature to either gently or deeply look at ourselves and want to make changes, and some people use the change in seasons for this.”
Resolutions often fail because a they are not backed by a clear plan, said Scott. If all it took was a person saying they were going to start or quit doing something, then people would not make resolutions she added.
“People want to do better, and they don’t know how,” she said. “It’s about truly having a plan and sticking with it.”
Those who want to succeed must carve time out of their routines to make time to think about, focus on and write down their goals, Scott said.
Resolutions are often too broad, said Diana Finlay, therapist and director of the Charlotte Taylor Center in Elizabethton.
Even the word “resolution” leads to a ‘cold turkey or bust’ mentality that does not include a step-by-step plan, but rather creates a broad and possibly unattainable goal, she said. Calling it a “goal” rather than a “resolution” helps to eliminate the sense of failure for the broad goal and promotes a sense of success for each small step accomplished, Finlay added.
For example, to set a goal to attend smoking cessation classes rather than to decide to quit smoking is more attainable. Finlay said that when people say they are going to quit smoking, she always asks, “Where will you start?”
By outlining and writing down steps to goals, people can hold themselves accountable and measure progress. Finlay said writing goals down shows intent to the individual and to his or her counselor or accountability partner. It also helps a person analyze the feasibility of the steps.
“I advise people to break their goals into small steps,” she said. “Wanting to get out of debt is not a plan, so I ask people to tell me the first thing they will do to do that.”
In that scenario, she said, maybe that means contacting a financial specialist. She also said that they need to be clear about what they mean by getting out of debt. If they owe $10,000, we talk about their income and what would be a realistic amount to pay off in a year.
With weight loss, Scott said it is unreasonable to expect to lose 50 pounds in a month-and-a-half when a person certainly did not gain that weight in that time frame. Ultimately, she said the person is left with a feeling of defeat.
Reasonable goals make life changes possible and believable.
“To make it effective, you have to believe you can make the change and not give up to soon,” said Scott.
When thoughts come to the mind that sabotage the goal, she said people must ditch those thoughts.
“You have to change the tapes in your head and stay focused,” she said. “You have to change how you think, feel and behave. There is something in one of those three areas that is causing you to shoot yourself in the foot.”
People must get ready to move, change and attain the goal, and that not everyone is prepared to do that, Scott said. The same part of the brain that is in action with addictions to both food and cigarettes, and the treatment and focus are the same, she added.
In the goal setting process, both counselors said to set specific steps that align with priorities, to keep goals small and realistic. Scott said people have things they want to change about themselves, but that saying it is not enough. New Years triggers a time for change for many, and common resolutions include quitting smoking, losing weight, quitting drinking, or getting a better job.
“They make that statement with good intentions, but when they don’t stick to a plan, they beat themselves up,” said Scott.
She often shares a Mark Twain quote with her clients when they feel down about a lack of progress or for giving in to sabotaging thoughts, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”
“You have to meet yourself where you are, understand it and have a plan to move forward,” she said. “That plan always involves changing how you think — that’s ultimately where it comes from. You may feel sad, anxious or hungry, and you have to train yourself to go beyond the feeling, not to feed the feeling and to think where it’s coming from and change the thought.”
Finlay said the biggest key to failure is making goals that are too broad.
“Be precise, set measurable goals, write them down and share it with friends who can encourage and remind you,” she said.
Scott is a licensed professional counselor with mental health service provider certification. She has been counseling in Tennessee for 9 years and for years before that in Georgia. She is opening a private practice in Butler called Patricia Scott Counseling and plans to open her doors in January. She may be reached at 423-388-4172.
Finlay has been a therapist with the Charlotte Taylor Center, a Frontier Health branch, for 25 years and is a licensed clinical therapist.

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