by Annabelle Parr
As we enter another new year, many of us have set our 2017 resolutions. Maybe you make resolutions, maybe not, but either way this is generally a time of reflection. In what ways do we hope this year will be different from last? What are we hoping to change in our lives? What goals do we have going forward?
The new year always seems to be a good time to think about making some changes because it gives us the chance to start fresh in some ways. But in other ways it is simply just another day. Nothing changed automatically on January first. What can change is our perspective, and it is our job to ensure that our actions follow. This is the tough part. Do you find yourself already struggling to maintain your resolution? Do you wonder why we have such a hard time keeping our resolutions for more than a few weeks? How do we make our resolutions stick?
The truth is, change is often slow. Occasionally we are able to make huge changes immediately, but more often than not change takes time. New year's resolutions often fail to take into account that it may actually take you all year to create the change you were hoping to see on January second. When we fail to recognize all the small steps on the road toward change, we set ourselves up for disappointment and failure. A new year's resolution sounds like an easy solution: set a major goal for the new year ahead. But our resolutions are empty unless they are backed by action, and creating a resolution doesn't necessarily help us to make an action plan.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers some ideas and tools that can be very helpful in guiding us along the process of change. Whether you come in to see a therapist for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or whether you apply the wisdom it can offer to your life on your own, this model can help us to keep our resolutions all year long.
ACT aims to increase psychological flexibility, which means that you are able to connect to the present moment consciously and choose to behave in a manner as consistent with your values as the situation allows. Part of the purpose behind ACT is to get in touch with your personal values (not those determined for you by society, family, friends, or any other external source), and then use these values to guide your actions and formulate specific goals. This is usually what we are aiming for with our new year's resolutions.
For example, if my resolution is that I want to eat healthier, a good place to start is to examine my values. Do I feel like I "should" eat healthier because I feel pressured by our health conscious culture or by my friends, family or partner? Or do I want to eat healthier because I value my physical health, deep in my heart? Or perhaps I value my role as a model to my children, and want to eat healthier for this reason. Once I determine my values and make sure that my resolution is driven by my own intrinsic motivation, then I can create a concrete plan of action to move forward.
The Choice Point Model, another helpful ACT tool, offers us a framework to use when we face a decision. A choice point is a moment in time where we can choose to act in a manner that is either consistent or inconsistent with our values. The Choice Point is about identifying the hundreds of moments in a day where we can be on autopilot and be driven by thoughts and feelings, or we can make a conscious, deliberate choice that is in the service of our values. When in this moment, we can use the acronym STOP:
S: Slow down. Take 3 mindful breaths.
T: Take notice. What are you thinking and feeling?
O: Open up. Make room for those thoughts and feelings instead of trying to avoid the discomfort.
P: Pursue values. Do what matters to you.
Sometimes, in a Choice Point, we will choose to avoid or procrastinate acting in a values consistent manner, and that is okay. Give yourself grace when this happens. But remember that though avoidance may provide relief for the moment, in the long run it will make us feel worse. So if we can STOP and choose to act in accordance with our values as frequently as possible, it will serve us.
As you approach this new year and begin thinking about your potential resolutions, remember that big change happens slowly, choice point by choice point. Remember to consider your values, and to STOP when you hit a choice point. If you feel you need some extra support along the road to change or healing...
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If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at email@example.com.