By Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Ashburn Psychological & Psychiatric Services
There are several reasons New Year’s Resolutions fail — the resolutions are too vague or grand, the approach lacks planning, structure, and accountability, and essential things are missing (e.g., motivation, time, and resources).
So, what can you do differently this year to maximize your success? First, I recommend that you try focusing more on how you think about yourself about a given goal over the actual desired results you want to achieve. If you want to change something meaningful about yourself, creating a winning mindset is the best place to start. Being more consciously aware of your thought processes in an area you’d like to improve can lead to improved feelings and more productive behaviors and outcomes.
Here are a few tips to consider when changing your mindset for a better 2023:
Make Sure You’re Ready to Change
Sure, you might say to others that you want to lose 20 pounds, drink less, or have a greater work- and personal-life balance, etc., but if you’re not ready to change, your efforts will also likely not last. Research has consistently shown that alcoholics, for example, maintain absolute sobriety the longest only after they’ve hit a personal bottom. It doesn’t matter how many close friends or family members tell an alcoholic they have a drinking problem. Until that individual realizes that entirely, sobriety often remains elusive or out of reach, you will be in a great place for change to happen when you are both intellectually (i.e., you know what you want) ready and emotionally (i.e., you feel strongly about what you wish to) prepared to make the changes you want to make.
Identify & Reframe Your Limiting Beliefs Toward the Positive
Once you’ve fully accepted and prioritized what you’d like to change about yourself, identify your limiting beliefs. A limiting belief is a thought that restricts you from achieving your goals and has genuine negative consequences. An individual’s limiting beliefs are largely unconscious and develop from life experiences and a life story. For example, the guy who believes that he’s undeserving of a great relationship or job didn’t just wake up one-day thinking, “I’d like to ask that woman out, but she’ll never say yes,” or “I’d love to apply to that job, but I’ll never get it.” Instead, moments across that person’s life create a false and negative internal narrative that stops him from feeling hopeful about a relationship or better career. Inaction, avoidance, and withdrawal cement his dreaded but expected negative outcome, and the narrative plays on and repeats when new opportunities present for him.
One way to challenge your limiting beliefs is to write down what you want to change about yourself and why you think you can’t. After identifying your limiting beliefs, acknowledge that they’re just beliefs. Then, challenge your assumptions and recognize the negative consequences those beliefs cause you. Reframe your thinking to adopt a new belief that you can begin to put into practice by using positive self-talk.
Research studies have repeatedly shown that positive self-talk decreases stress and increases self-esteem and overall wellness. In addition, individuals with anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental health struggles (e.g., eating disorders and body image problems), have demonstrated significant symptom reduction due to positive self-talk.
Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
Positive Psychology research studies have shown that gratitude is strongly associated with happiness and that increased happiness levels lead to motivation, commitment, and change when achieving goals. And when it comes to cultivating gratitude in your life, I recommend that you focus on the good; by noticing, appreciating, and seeking out the good things in your life, you will start to think more positively about all you have. You might benefit from keeping a daily gratitude journal or mentally reminding yourself of the various things you have to be grateful for. For example, before going to bed at night, think about two things you’re grateful for from your day and allow yourself to feel good about those things. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds.”
Human beings are hard-wired when it comes to pleasure, and research has shown that being generous and giving to others contributes to happiness and success. Generous people focus on the good of others over the good for themselves, and thus they will do what they can to work harder to accomplish their goals. Consider the character Ebenezer Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol. Scrooge’s reframing of his life (about others) led to increased happiness, which then buttressed his altruistic drive to give back and help others. Everyone, including Scrooge, benefited from his generosity, which showed the betterment and success of all involved.
This holiday season is a wonderful time to give to others, and like Scrooge, your generosity could pay back in dividends and help you feel better about yourself and the changes you want to make. From volunteering your time or donating money to partaking in kind and selfless acts (e.g., leaving a 5-star Google review for a business you like, helping a neighbor shovel out some snow, etc.), giving is motivating, and I encourage you to embrace it.
Visualization is a cognitive strategy that involves an individual using their imagination to change, achieve, accomplish, or obtain something desired and important. By mentally rehearsing an outcome, you can center yourself with positive thinking and relaxation toward whatever you strive to achieve. As a practice, visualization has been around for generations, and many cultures use it. Olympians, professional athletes, celebrities, and many others who have struggled to achieve, have been helped by it. ‘
A Vision Board is an easy and effective way to practice visualization. You will need a corkboard to start. Then, place several pictures or ideas for change on the board; ideally, your thoughts will include short- or long-term goals. Google Images is a great place to find what you might be looking for, and ideas abound.
A printout of a report card with all “A’s,” a printout of a baby if you are trying to conceive, a printout of someone close to your age and in shape or exercising, a personal check with a monetary number on it to represent your retirement goal, a printout of a lake house, a printout of a happy older couple walking down the beach, a printout of a large family at a holiday gathering — these are just a few ideas that may matter to someone as they visualize their success.
Once the Vision Board is up, you will want to place it somewhere it will be seen (i.e., your bathroom or closet). And Vision Boards aren’t static. After you achieve a goal, you can take it down and create a new one. Research has consistently shown that visualization increases positive thinking and change, so it’s a good bet that it will help you if you try it. What successes do you visualize for yourself this year?
So, regardless of your specific goals or resolutions, remember that achieving them is more mental than you think. So, here’s to getting yourself into a winning mindset for positive and successful change in 2023!