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Healthy Living Blog

Everybody hates New Year's resolutions...and so do I.

January 05, 2021 | Ken Murray, Ph.D., LPCC-S

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In my experience as a mental health counselor, most people seem to hate the whole idea of “New Year’s Resolutions,” to the point where I do not use that term in therapy. I just focus on “goals” in the coming year. I think the reason that so many people hate making New Year’s Resolutions is that we (I include myself) have broken so many of them over the years that the whole concept triggers feelings of shame and guilt, instead of the hope and motivation that is intended.

I remember being a new therapist and working with a depressed young man. We created a whole written list of things that he could do to help himself feel better. When he came back to our next session, he hadn’t done a single thing on the list. He said that the piece of paper had felt like it weighed about 10 pounds as he left my office, because it was more stuff that he should do, but knew he wouldn’t. It had overwhelmed rather than motivated him.

I have since learned that the best goals are small ones that are more likely to be accomplished. We often start out with a BIG PLAN to “eat healthy” or “get in shape.” By the 3rd day, we’re back in McDonald’s and didn’t make it to the gym. In fact, I like goals that are tiny, so small that they are not intimidating and are more likely to succeed. I sometimes ask my clients to commit to a goal that is so small that they would be embarrassed to come back to our next session and tell me, “I didn’t do it.”

For example, instead of making a commitment to “get in shape” someone could commit to doing 5 push-ups, or going up/down a few stairs every day, before taking a shower. If someone wants to read more, that might mean reading one paragraph before bedtime. In the case of meditating, it might be taking 3 calming breaths, first thing in the morning.

You make it so simple that you don’t have any reasonable excuse not to do it. Call it a “micro-goal.” So even when you're busy, or you're sick, or you're tired…it's so tiny that you can still do it. It’s hard to use the “I was too busy” excuse for not doing something that literally takes 1-2 minutes. No one is that busy.

I had to give up lifting weights years ago, due to back problems. About 5 years ago, I committed to doing push-ups every day, before I take a shower. I started with 5, and now I do 20. It may not sound like much, but even small stuff adds up (20 push-ups x 30 days = 600 push-ups per month). Aside from a few lapses, I’ve been able to keep that going for 5+ years.

As an added bonus, when you have micro-goals that you can easily accomplish every day, it gives you a regular sense of success (rather than failure). Even if nothing else got done today…at least I did my push-ups.

About Ken Murray

Ken Murray, Ph.D., LPCC-S provides counseling services to children, adults, and families addressing a wide range of mental health concerns. Ken specializes in providing counseling for children and families and has experience with providing counseling for parent and leading parenting classes. For more information about Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.