Reach Your Resolution Goals by Changing How You Think

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

If you are like most people, you have likely considered at least one, if not more, New Year’s resolutions this year. Of course, you have every intention to make the change. Your heart and mind, at least in the moment, are united to conceive that this change is very possible.

Depending on how long you have rehearsed your old behaviours or emotional patterns, and your level of determination, this change process can move quicklyor take some length of time. A significant early challenge is to confront the negative and automatic thoughts that can be intrusive (e.g., “I can’t do it”, “I’ve tried this before and it didn’t work”, “I managed to make the change, butit didn’t last”). As many of you know, these thoughts can be so powerful and demoralizing that despite motivation to change, the process comes to a grindinghalt. Often, you may not even be aware of the automatic and negative thoughts even when you recognize you feel badly.

Your success in achieving this year’s New Year’s resolution will depend on how quickly and effectively you become aware of your negative self-talk and replace it with positive self-talk. Bymonitoring your self-talk you can also identify cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions or illogical thoughts are present when we are trapped by: All or nothing thinking (e.g., I “always”, I “never“), Overgeneralization (taking one incident and believing it is a never-ending pattern for life), Mental Filter (not noticing the positives and onlynoticing the negatives), Disqualifying the Positive (purposely dismissing positives), Jumping to Conclusions (focusing on the future and assumingit will turn out badly), Magnification and Minimization (not viewing theproportion of the situation appropriately), Emotional Reasoning (using your feelings as evidence that the negative thought that created the feelings iscorrect), Should Statements (“I should ____”), Labeling (callingyourself a bad name), and Blame (assuming you are completely responsible for a negative outcome). These distortions are usually the culprits that cause negative feelings. When you notice and challenge these distortions,you are changing how you feel and behave by consciously altering the way youthink!

Being aware of your thoughts and self-talk can be helpful when you move along to achieving your New Year’sresolution. One theory suggests 5 stages of change. It can be helpful to identify one short, believable, and valid statement that you can use like a mantra for each step. It can ground you when you risk slipping back into the old patterns. For example, in Precontemplation (being aware that change would be beneficial), you could rehearse “I am thinking about it so it mustbe important to me to change”. In Contemplation (you have intention to start a change), you could rehearse “It’s important for me to make time because this is important to me”. In Preparation (taking astep that starts the change), you could rehearse “one step at a time”. In Action (actively doing the new behaviour/change) you couldrehearse, “I am doing it” or “I have what it takes to do this”. In Maintenance (continue doing the new behaviour/change so as to not slipback), you can rehearse “I did this once already, and I can do it again andagain”. You are welcome to use these suggestions or create your own. Playwith the words until you notice their positive effectiveness. After all, you rthoughts will affect your feelings and what you do!