TUPELO • New Year’s Day introspection can deliver a long list of aspirations for the coming year.

To make a resolution stick beyond Jan. 15, Northeast Mississippi counselors suggest picking one goal, digging in deeply and building habits to support it.

“Our decisions come from what we value,” said licensed professional counselor Kelly Ferguson of Fairpark Counseling in Tupelo. “We want to align behavior and habits with what we value.”

Losing weight, quitting smoking, spending less and speaking more kindly are all good, healthy things to add to our lives, said licensed professional counselor Phil Baquie of the Wellness Center of Oxford and the Wellness and Counseling Center of Tupelo. But for long term success, it’s important to look under the hood to find what’s driving you and where you have blind spots.

“It’s not just trying to change a behavior,” said Baquie, who has a doctorate in psychology. “It’s what’s going on inside me … why do I want to do it in the first place?”

If your resolution is to stop eating a bag of Oreos at bed time, the fix might seem straightforward.

“But what is driving you to eat the Oreos?” Baquie said.

The answers to the why can steer the prescription. If you are snacking late at night because you are still hungry, the new habit may be just finding a healthier snack. But if you are eating the Oreos to feed an emotional need, just removing them from the pantry won’t address the underlying motivation.

“Being able to work on these (motivations) is much more healthy,” Baquie said.

Practical tips

As people map out their resolution plans, they need to find ways to celebrate the journey, said licensed professional counselor Joy Johnson of Johnson Counseling and Referral Service in Tupelo.

“People need to focus on progress and not the (end) result,” Johnston said. “It’s all about making a positive change.”

Creating those immediate rewards really matters. A 2016 University of Chicago analysis of four studies found people who experienced immediate rewards were more likely to keep moving toward a long term goal than those who focused only on delayed rewards.

To avoid getting overwhelmed, break down the goal into manageable bite-size pieces, Ferguson said. Build habits that support the overall goal.

“It’s our habits that carry us where we want to go,” Ferguson said.

People can help those new habits along, Baquie said. Look for ways to make it easier to choose the new habit. If the goal is to walk or run in the morning, have your workout clothes and running shoes ready at bed time.

Attaching a time element to the goal gives it a priority and an urgency. Ferguson, who had been working on a novel for 19 years, used deadlines to finish his book, “Mud Creek,” in December.

“If you’ve got a goal, but don’t have a date on it, it’s not a goal,” Ferguson said. “It’s a dream.”

Creating a positive social support system can keep you moving toward your goal. For Ferguson, encouragement from his wife and a friend were instrumental in getting his novel across the finish line.

Although we usually plan for the best, it’s important to make room for the bumps along the resolution journey.

“Sometimes our perfectionism gets in the way of our goal,” Ferguson said.

In some cases, persisting when things don’t go right is the key to the journey. Ferguson played chess with a friend 159 times before he won the first match.

“I was learning every time I got beat,” Ferguson said.

Most of all, be kind to yourself through the journey. Despite what we see on the football field, berating and tearing yourself down for mistakes is counterproductive, Johnson said. Acknowledge the slip, but focus on what did go right and look for the positive.

“Treat yourself like you would your dearest friend,” Johnston said. “That will keep you on track much longer.”

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