Reaching Beyond Resolutions: How to Make Lasting Change

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Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, health psychologist, offers tips to make lasting change in your lifeMadison
, Wisconsin
– By the time late-January rolls around, the holidays are a pleasant memory and those New Year's Resolutions we made in a moment of optimism have given way to old habits. But it is possible to make lasting changes, it just takes a little practice.


"One of the main reasons resolutions often fall by the wayside is that we often think in terms of what we should do, not necessarily what we are truly committed to doing," says Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, UW Health psychologist.


Make the Change You Believe In


Mirgain points out that when we're considering whether to change habits, or set new goals in life, it's helpful to ask the question of, "Why" -- why do you want to make a change and is it something you truly believe in doing, or are you feeling like it's something you should be doing?


"It helps to identify the source of your motivation," explains Mirgain. "Is it internal – this is something I truly believe is important to me in my life? Or is it external – I feel like I should make this change because I know it's supposed to be good for me?"


It can be a fine line. Sometimes we need to make a change for our health – lose weight, for example - but we're just not quite ready to do so. It can take several attempts before we're able to really commit to the change in our lives. Explore how this goal fits in with the life you want to live and the person you want to be. This allows you to uncover the reasons and the internal motivation to make lasting changes.

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Commit for a Lifetime


Short-term goals are useful, but they shouldn't be your sole focus. If you set out to run a marathon and run that marathon, where do you go next? Instead, think about goals as stepping stones – keep them small and specific.


"Think about your goals in terms of one week, one month, one year," suggests Mirgain. "And then ask yourself, what's one thing you can do today toward your goal? Maybe it's taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking far away from the entrance. Remember, it's the small steps that propel us forward."


Write it Down


Research has suggested that when individuals write down what they'd like to achieve, it significantly increases the probability of achieving it. Once you've identified what you'd like to do, write it down, and post it where you can see it regularly. Having a daily reminder can help you stay motivated.


Prepare for Setbacks


Often we set ourselves up for failure. Anyone who has tried to diet knows the feeling – the one of having eaten too much during one meal, so no sense refraining from dessert at the next. But setbacks do happen. And just because they do, doesn't mean our efforts have been for naught.


"The key is to have a setback plan," says Mirgain. "So you overindulge at one meal. Or maybe you get a cold and limit your physical activity for a week. Don't beat yourself up when you find yourself backsliding. Use encouragement, not criticism. Figure out what you need to do to get back on track – that small thing you can do - and keep the momentum going."


And, according to Mirgain, having a cheerleader can help.


Find Support


Mirgain suggests enlisting a trusted friend or family member who can help you stay motivated toward your goals. Someone who will help celebrate your successes and remind you that setbacks are just temporary.


"Having someone on your side can help you feel accountable to your goal, and can give you that emotional lift when you need it most," explains Mirgain.


Check-In with Yourself


Throughout the year, it's important to review the progress you've made and assess whether you're making the progress you expected. It's also a chance to make sure that the goals you have are still in alignment with where you want to be in life.


"Any goals we set for ourselves should be fluid to some degree," comments Mirgain. "They're a reflection of how we want to live our lives and who we are. It's important that our goals change and grow, and continue to help us rather than hold us back.


Date Published: 01/22/2014

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