So how is that New Year’s resolution going for you? Time sure flies and here we are already heading into a beautiful Spring here in Orange County. By this time, less that 10% will be continuing on with their New Year’s resolutions.  Depressing!  My friend who manages a gym, says that it is a consistent fact that only about 18% of the memberships sold at the start of a year are still being used by March. As a therapist in Orange County, most of my clients come in with some kind of picture of how they would like to be but struggle with getting there and staying there. I sometimes find myself struggling with change too. Whether you made a New Year’s resolution or simply wonder why your best intentions often lead to a lack of results, here is a checklist to equip yourself for a change or changes that will last in all areas of your life.

Check your motivation
You have to start with the motivation or everything else is pointless. Change that it is being done for someone or something else will most certainly end in failure. Do you really want to lose weight, or is the goal driven by the expectation of the media or the opinion of another person? Do you really want to have a better relationship with your family, or do you feel guilty that you don’t and know that they aren’t happy with how you are? If it isn’t a goal that YOU find valuable for your own well-being and purpose in life, it will not last.

Be realistic
Change requires time, effort, energy and sometimes money. Is your goal realistic with what you have to invest? Can you really make it to the gym an hour every day of the week and still keep up with work, friends, groceries and laundry? Make your goal fit with what you can sustain.

Make your goals specific
Get detailed with your goals. For example, saying you want to be in better shape is too vague. Saying that at the same time next year you want to have your body fat down to a certain BMI, improve your cholesterol level, lose 10 lbs, etc. are all specific things you can measure. Or in a relationship, maybe you want to be more encouraging to a friend or partner. Nice concept, but break it down to what that means. What would actually be encouraging to that person and when, where and how often are you going to engage in that behavior?

Break goals into smaller parts
Large goals may have to be broken down into smaller steps. For example, if your goal is to retire in Orange County by the end of the year and you’re a barista at Starbucks, even a numerically challenged therapist like myself could tell you that just isn’t going to happen. Smaller steps toward the goal might be things like setting aside $20 every week into savings, taking a course on managing money, losing one pound a week, or walking one mile further every month.

Write it down
When you write something down, it’s easier to relate to and keep in mind. Write down your goal and the steps you are focusing and put it somewhere you will see every day, like the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, your car dashboard. You can even program a daily reminder into your phone to pop up once or multiple times a day.

Measure everything
Include clearly set times to check in on your progress. When your goals and process can be measured, you will be able to track your progress and make adjustments if needed. What you should measure at your chosen set time is how you have done with the process you committed to.

Prepare for success
Does your environment support or discourage your goals? Having a bowl of candy on the counter will be a problem if your plan is to reduce sugar intake. Do you know what is going to be helpful in achieving your goals? It may be helpful to ask someone else who has already mastered what you want to do. If it is health, ask a doctor or a physical trainer, etc. If it is a relationship, ask a therapist or someone who already has the kind of relationship you want.

Try, try again… differently
You will likely slip up along the way.  Don’t get depressed. This is hard work. Let any failure be an opportunity to forgive yourself and look to see if you need to change your system for a better result moving forward. Thomas Edison took thousands of attempts to create a working light bulb and even afterward continued to refine and improve it. When asked about his failed attempts, he said, “I have not failed. I have just found thousands of ways that do not work.”

Reward your success
Celebrate the successes along the way, not just the final result. Part of your written plan needs to include how you will reward yourself as you stay on track or hit a milestone. It’s easier to keep going with an encouraging reward.

Have a support system
It’s very difficult to change without support. You need feedback, accountability, and encouragement. There may be free resources available nearby. Just looking online at the Orange County Register or local churches in my area brings up multiple support groups and clubs to join. You may even find someone else who also wants to make changes and be able to do it together. As an Orange County psychologist, I highly encourage my clients to be involved in a wider support system, even while in therapy with me. The more support the better!