New Year’s Resolutions into Transformations

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In a few short weeks we begin the process of identifying goals for the New Year. This may involve habits to break, weight to lose, going to gym, stopping smoking; eating better, treating loved ones better, stopping self-destructive patterns of thinking and acting. The list includes the promises we make to ourselves to initiate positive behavior and make changes in our lives. I knew that the month of January at the gym where I go will be crowded, but that by mid-February the crowd will lessen and by March it will go back to same group who were there in December, maybe with a few new additions.

So, why do we fail with New Year’s Resolutions? And, what can we learn from our past years of failed resolutions? I wonder why people tend to pick one time of the year to initiate all these changes in their lives. Could the problems with sustaining New Year’s Resolutions be that we overwhelm ourselves with anxiety about changing? Or, maybe the path we put ourselves on to change doesn’t have all the supports we need.

I remember the number of times I gave up cigarettes and the number of times that my resolve failed because of a stressful situation that would emerge in my life and I would return to smoking. I smoked from the age of 15 to 40 and probably failed at quitting 20 times over 25 years.  I would get mad at myself for failing, but I would continue to smoke. Eventually, I was able to quit smoking and found that what worked was replacing smoking with another behavior. Can we generalize that strategy to other problems in our lives we want to stop and what would those alternative behaviors be?

With New Year’s Day just around the corner I know that people are collecting their plans for the changes they will implement in their lives on January 1st. What suggestions for success can we offer to help people stay with their resolutions? Here are a few ideas to consider:

Rank your resolutions, what is the most important thing in your life that you want to change? Identify why this goal is important to you. What do you value that will change in your life if you can realize that goal?

With the goal in mind, how are you going to approach attaining your number one goal? For example: if its smoking, will you stop completely? Or, do it in stages? Or, use a support like nicotine gum or a patch while you reduce your smoking? There are support groups available for a wide range of habits that people want help with changing from smoking to eating and certainly, substance use.

What can replace the behavior that you want to change in your life? In other words, what can you do or think about when you would normally be engaged in the behavior that you want to change? Let’s continue to use smoking as our target behavior for change. If you weren’t smoking what could you do with the money you save on tobacco? How about every time you consider smoking replace that with the thought of driving in your new car or truck that you purchased with your former cigarette money? I’d bet that if you are a heavy smoker you can make a car payment comparable to the cost of smoking for a month. So, you’ve traded smoking for a new car. That sounds like a good deal!

Now, let’s consider more complex behaviors which may include activities like drinking or drug use which cause real problems in other aspects of your life, like relationships with family, children and friends; your job;  your finances; your mental and physical health and even your personal safety. What makes these problems complex is your addiction or physical and psychological dependence on the substance you use and the secondary problems related to addiction. Both of these problem areas require outside help, intervention and treatment and also require that you make other broad sweeping changes in your life. Like the use of nicotine gum or a patch for smoking, stopping alcohol and drug use may require that you enter into treatment and that the treatment expand into your life. Attending groups like AA, NA and Celebrate Recovery! bring you into contact with supportive people and a structure which can replace the activities in your life when you used to turn to alcohol or drugs for relief from life’s problems. In other words you have a place to go and people to be with who are living without addiction just like you. You will need to make sure that your family is receiving support through a group like Al-Anon. You will need to change what you do in your leisure time and who spend time with. In other words, the substitute behaviors become important to your success. Any behaviors from the “old days”, including toxic relationships which you maintain needs to be carefully examined for how it will contribute to maintaining positive change in your life.

In the recovery community we hear about relapse all the time. Relapse occurs because the person and the structure they set up around them failed. It doesn’t mean that the failure is forever, but relapse requires that the person take a close look at what prompted their failure and determine what it would take to get back on track. Someone in the recovery community explained their long-term sobriety to me as: “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired”. Simple words or a profound statement? I’d call it a profound statement and one full of insight.

What separates Resolution from Transformation?  Resolution is an idea and transformation is the method of change. Both are needed to make changes in life. Transformation requires a commitment to working the plan and using the methods of change made available to you. Resolution becomes Transformation when you take ownership for the problem and responsibility for change.

Brookhaven can help you with the process of transformation when you’re ready. You can be the person who succeeds with their New Year’s resolutions.

Happy New Year!

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