So…Whatever Happened to Your New Year’s Resolutions?

Lose 20 pounds.
Find a husband.
Makeover every room the Marie Kondo way.

How’s it going?
At the beginning of your shiny new year, all of your New Year’s Resolutions probably seemed possible and hopes of accomplishing your goals were high. But now, just a few months in, well…not anymore.

You don’t meal prep the way you want to. Your attempts at dating are demoralizing. And the pile of old books, dirty clothes, and unorganized kitchen Tupperware is sparking frustration rather than joy.

The truth? You are not alone.
Many people discover that it doesn’t take long before the plan to be more, do more, and fix more about ourselves or our lives quickly goes out the window as the weeks wear on.

In fact, for most of us, all of our well-laid January routines fade away completely well before Spring arrives. So, the question is:

What’s Getting in Your Way?

To figure out why your resolutions fizzled, you need to identify barriers to the life you want. Start by asking yourself these questions:

Are your actions getting in the way of your resolutions?

For instance, do you find that you drink too much on the weekends or hang out on the couch for another Netflix binge, only to find you’ve wrecked your weight-loss and workout goals? Or perhaps you linger on the phone too late with a prospective partner, knowing it will just make you too tired and cranky to be productive at work in the morning.

Do you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Sometimes you know those actions don’t support the kind of life you want to live, and yet you do it anyway.

Is negative thinking sabotaging your goals?

When you’re acting in a way that creates barriers, you’re probably thinking in an unhelpful way too. How often have you thought, “I don’t have time to work out this week, I can just start Monday” or “I don’t need eight hours of sleep anyway”?

At times, negative thoughts can completely take hold of you and stop your goals in their tracks. Maybe you’ve thought, “You were never going to lose that weight anyway” or “You don’t have what it takes to be in a long-term relationship.”

Do you wonder why you talk to yourself that way? You know it isn’t encouraging or motivational, but somehow it’s made its way into your mental dialogue.

Did you set unrealistic expectations?

Are you going crazy trying to meet impossibly high standards? It may be that your goals aren’t rooted in reality and only serve to create anxiety and a sense of failure. You never intended for your goal to be so exhausting and overwhelming. However, when you list out your goals, it feels too daunting and you just don’t know where to start.

So, What Can You Do About Your Resolutions Now?

Take action! It is still possible to recover your New Year enthusiasm and make your resolutions happen. You just need a plan. Strategies like these can help:

Set SMART goals

SMART is an acronym for a method that helps guide your goals in a manageable, proactive, less overwhelming way. Let’s use the popular Marie Kondo home organizing goal as an example.

  • Specific – As it pertains to organizing, instead of creating a huge pile of everything in your closet, try just tackling T-shirts and shorts.
  • Measurable – Now that you have a specified goal, you can relax knowing that you have only those two drawers to manage rather than every item of clothing you own. This effectively prevents the sense that you are drowning in the project.
  • Attainable – Setting a goal for two drawers within a couple of hours encourages you to tackle the job knowing it is something you can accomplish well and completely.
  • Relevant – Choosing to tackle your closet this way helps you connect with your wants and needs. Your choice of T-shirts and shorts may be relevant because the weather is warming up. Or taming your overstuffed drawers may be a way to streamline life and provide a way to donate to a charity you like.
  • Time-based – Setting a limit can ensure that outlandish demands on your time are reigned in. This way you can dig in without stress or guilt, aware that the time and energy required can be easily scheduled for just an hour or two.

Essentially, this approach to our goals can help manage anything that seems too big to accomplish. Breaking goals down is key to successfully reaching them.

Make Sure Your Values Align

Goals and values are not the same things.
Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches us that a value is a chosen life direction, in other words, how you choose to live when you are living a meaningful life. A goal, on the other hand, is a finite action typically based on your personal values.

To illustrate, let’s assume that your value is like a direction, for instance, “I want to go east.” So you might fly on a plane going east and land in Denver. Then London. Then China. Then Denver again. The value “I want to go east” is ongoing and may be continually maintained for as long as the value is held. You have never “arrived” at “east” and can continue to keep going east.

Now, let’s look at one of my values: being supportive. I can support my clients as they grieve, call my sister to support her during a hard day, and then later support my partner with a job transition. Even though I have done supportive actions, I am not “done” being supportive. I am choosing to continue to be supportive since it helps me feel as though I am living a meaningful life. Values do not get checked off. You always move forward with values, attempting to continually live in accordance with them.

With that in mind, your goals are checkable items. So, you might live according to your “I want to go east” value by setting a specifically achievable “visit New York” goal. And you might live according to your “supportive” value by calling to check in on your best friend after her job interview.

Check in with Your Values

The goals you choose for yourself should align with values that reinvigorate you and bring meaning to your life. To say you want to “lose weight” or “be skinny” is not a value. Those are goals. Losing weight may be worthwhile, but only if you are invested in the value behind the goal (like vitality and well-being) that justifies the effort.

Finally, understand that your values are not set in stone.
They change from year to year and from one setting to another. Values such as flexibility, accountability, or safety may be more important at work. Whereas being loving, trustworthy and supportive are values that may matter more with your partner.

Pay attention to which values you hold in various situations and seasons. Check in regularly to assess that your values and goals still align over time.

Deal with Negative Thoughts

It’s important to note that even if you’ve done the work of aligning your values and goals, most likely, your own negative thoughts will still try to get in the way. Negative thoughts like, “you’re not smart enough”, “pretty enough”, “wealthy enough”, or “good enough”, have a way of creeping in. And before long, they can deflate your motivation and confidence.

How do you cope with these negative thoughts?

  1. Recognize that your thoughts come and go, just like feelings. We often think we can control thoughts more than we actually can.
  2. Focus on actions you can take. Shift your attention to the unhelpful behavior you identified and change those instead.
  3. Reframe your thoughts and speak well to yourself. Would you say “Gosh, you’re so fat,” to your best friend? No? Good… talk to yourself as you would your best friend.

What’s Next? Accept Yourself and Commit to Moving Forward

That’s right. Goals are hard. Be kind to yourself.
If you find yourself off track, it doesn’t mean you have to start at square one. It just means you have to decide where to move forward from that specific point.

After three weeks of meal prep, you can forgive yourself for having one night of sourdough and beer. You can simply allow it to be a nice caloric detour and head back to your healthy routine. Honestly, if you got absorbed in a podcast and lost your way on a road trip, would you turn around, go all the way back home, and start over? Of course not!

Above all, the idea is to allow yourself to make a mistake and accept that sliding off track happens. Give yourself a break.

Choose to tune out the negative thoughts and self-talk, especially if self-compassion is one of your values. If you need help with self-compassion you may want to investigate Self-compassion.org where you can listen to guided meditations or learn exercises to help you become gentler with yourself.

Finally, remember that it’s okay to slow down. Explore life’s detours and then head back in the direction that matters. It’s fine to try again. It’s fine to choose new goals if you need to. Your goals are still reachable.

Happy New Year… take two.

Women! – We Are More Than Our Stories

This summer, I attended the first ever “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) BootCamp for Women’s Issues.”

Though I had attended a traditional ACT Bootcamp earlier this year, I was drawn to this summer event out of a desire to connect more with my community of women and to examine ways I can better serve my female clients. The reality of the unique struggles women face in the world has been inescapable in both my personal life and in the therapy room.

I went to the training ready to learn. I walked away empowered and inspired.

A Mutually Shared Story

Throughout the training, we often reflected on the question, “What is our story?”

In other words, “How did I come to be who I am?”

The answer would help us to understand the multitude of challenges we often face as women—how our story may limit us in terms of the choices we make in our lives and what we feel our lives can be.

There is so much commonality in that story—it crosses over the human experience. Pain and suffering do not discriminate by gender.

However, there is commonality that is also very gender-specific. Women have different experiences that can impact us in so many ways in our lives, such as our relationship to finances, to aging, to sexuality, or to a career.

Even though we have distinct personal experiences, there are ways in which women also have shared experiences—a shared story, essentially. For example:

  • Women are more likely than men to be the main caregiver for their children and other dependent relatives
  • Women are overrepresented in low-income, low-status jobs
  • Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted and neglected or abused in childhood

We explored a lot of sobering but not surprising facts like the ones above.

But the most powerful experience from the training did not come from a lecture or discussion. The act of sitting in a room full of people who had similar experiences, and feeling and understanding the power of connection coming from these mutually shared experiences, was by far the most impactful.

Breaking Free of the Confines of Our Story

The pain of our experiences often leads us to withdraw and isolate. And when we do that, it is easy to think that we are alone, and for many of us, that we are at fault. It keeps the story alive and makes our lives small.

That isolation keeps us contained—trapped in our little boxes and limited in our lives. It has profound consequences. For example, research has shown that a lack of social connection negatively impacts our health equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The antidote is simple—connection.

Connecting can help us see that our story is not an uncommon one. When we connect to others and build community with them, we can start to recognize how our story got built. And that not only helps us to understand ourselves and our situation, but it also takes the power out of that story as something that has to define us and isolate us.

In turn, connection allows us to break free of the confines of that story, making room for the fullness and complexity of our beings and giving us greater freedom to choose our path.

Looking for more connection in your life?

Sign Up for Our 9-week ACT on Life Class for Women in Portland, Oregon.

In ACT on Life for Women, you’ll learn techniques based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to break the grip of unwanted thoughts and feelings and more fully engage your life. Amongst a community of other women, we will connect and dismantle common stories we carry that are often barriers to the full life we want and deserve to live.

Sign Up Here

Pain and values: two sides of the same coin

 “Where there is love there is pain” –Spanish Proverb

I’ve known and lived with many amazing dogs and cats in my life. Each animal I’ve known has been special and wonderful in their own way. But then there is Dalai. She is my lifetime dog. When we adopted that scared little dog all those years ago, I could never have imagined how she would change my life. She’s the canine version of my soul mate.

The problem is Dalai is growing old

Dalai

We’ve shared many, many years together, and unfortunately the fact of nature is that our canine companions’ time on this earth is way too short. Dalai (pictured above) is somewhere between 16 and 18 years old now. Gone are the days when we would end our early morning walks by chasing each other outside of the Brookings Institution (you should have seen the security guards out in front of that stodgy DC think-tank laughing at us each morning!) or of overhearing people at the park say things like “Wow, look at that little rocket dog run!”

We still have our daily walks, but they’ve become slow strolls– sometimes it takes her 20 minutes just to get around the block. More frequently we simply spend time together with her curled up and snoring away beside me on the couch, perfectly content to let her younger adopted sister take over ball-fetching duty. And nearly every day when I’m walking Dalai or sitting with her on the couch, I feel a deep sadness in my heart. As I am with her I am constantly reminded that her time with me is getting ever more finite. And sometimes that sadness is so intense that I have the thought that I can’t bear the feeling.

But here’s the thing…

If I’m not willing to have those thoughts and that sadness that shows up when I’m with Dalai, I can’t actually care for her in the way I would choose to during this time in her life. The only way to get away from these difficult thoughts and feelings is to not be around her. In order to spend time with her, to care for her and love her as my constant companion, then I have to experience my sadness at her impending loss. It’s the price of admission to be in this relationship.

My experience has been that those things that I care about the most, that are most meaningful in my life, are also the things that come with the most pain.

Check that out with your own experience. Are there areas in your life or relationships that you care about so deeply but that also bring a great deal of pain? Is it perhaps the case that the more you care about something, the more you’re opening yourself up to feeling pain?

Here’s an exercise I often do with clients around this struggle…

Step 1: Find some activity or relationship in your life that you value, but from which you find yourself pulling away. Maybe it’s a relationship you care about deeply but in which you’ve noticed you’ve been less engaged. Maybe it’s an activity you care about but you aren’t taking much action on.

Step 2: Now take out an index card or piece of paper. On one side, write down what you value in that relationship or area of living. Who do you really want to be to that individual? What are some descriptors of how you would like to be in that area of your life?  Now turn the card over. On the other side, write down what difficult thoughts and feelings might show up for you when you start taking action toward that value. For example, for my card with Dalai it might look something like

Front of card

Value:

Being a caring steward and loyal companion to Dalai for as long as she lives with us.

Back of card

Pain:

  • The thought “I’m not going to be able to handle it when she dies”
  • The thought “This is too painful”
  • The feeling of anxiety of not knowing when her death will happen
  • The feeling of sadness and doubt when I see her in pain at times

Step 3:  Now take that card and put it in your pocket, wallet, or purse. For the next week, take it out and ask yourself: “Am I willing to have that card, both sides of it, in its totality or would I choose to walk away from it?” Because, it’s a package deal, you can’t have one side without the other.

Values are freely chosen; we get to decide whether we will pick up the card. What we don’t get to choose is what’s on the other side of the card. Those things just come along for the ride.

 Dalai and I are in this together. So Sadness, strap yourself in because Dalai and I still have a ways left to go on this ride together!