Category: Self-Growth

Making New Years Resolutions Work

Written by Ariel Campbell

For many of us, entering into the New Year can bring about thoughts of change. It can be a time of retrospection when we reflect on our life choices and consider improvements we would like to make. It’s probably the case that most of us, at one time or another, have set a New Year’s resolution aimed at bettering ourselves in some way. However, it’s probably also the case that most of us have experienced that initial sense of eager excitement and commitment gradually fizzle out into something more like a faint suggestion.

Despite our best intentions, making lasting changes in behavior can be hard. Luckily there are a number of strategies that can help us increase the likelihood of staying on track and achieving our goals. Whether it’s losing weight, improving an important relationship, or finally getting around to writing that novel these tips can help you make positive changes that last through 2017 and beyond.

The first step towards change is choosing appropriate goals. While we likely all have various areas of self-improvement that we could target, attempting to work on multiple areas simultaneously can be an overly ambitious undertaking. Focusing all of your energy for change towards one goal at a time will boost the odds in your favor. Additionally, aim to choose positive rather than negative goals. Positive goals are new patterns that you would like to see whereas negative goals involve current habits that you want to stop. It’s much easier to learn new habits than to unlearn old ones.

When setting goals, remember the acronym SMART to increase your chances of meeting your objectives. Setting Specific goals means being very clear and precise about what you want to achieve. If you’re working towards a long-term goal, breaking it down into smaller, clearly defined steps will help you to get started and stay on track more easily. Choose Measurable goals in order to track your progress. For example, if you want to find a new job choose to send out five applications per week. Make sure to set goals that are Achievable, or in other words goals that are in line with your abilities. Additionally, it is important to be sure that your goals are Realistic. Select a goal that is not only in line with your resources, but also with your larger life priorities and obligations. And finally, set Timely goals, meaning goals with a clear time frame and end date.

Now that you’ve set attainable goals, you’re ready to start working towards them. Making real changes in behavior is hard but following a few principles can help tip the scales in your direction. As you set out on each new step, consider any obstacles that may get in the way of reaching your goal. It’s impossible to anticipate all possible challenges, but predicting the most likely obstacles you might face and making a plan for how to manage them ahead of time will help to keep you on track. Repeating new behaviors is also key to achieving lasting change. With repetition, new patterns will begin to feel habitual. Once they do, you can tack on the next step in your plan and promote continued progress.

Another important tip to keep you moving in the right direction is to approach setbacks with the right mindset. It’s inevitable that old habits will creep in from time throughout the change process. Therefore, expecting setbacks and being kind to yourself when they do occur will help you to reflect on the things you could have done differently so that you’re better equipped to deal with future challenges. While being armed with the tools discussed so far will maximize your chances of making meaningful and sustainable changes, incorporating a few additional strategies that target your environment should make you unstoppable on the path towards achieving your goals.

One of the main reasons that it’s so hard to change our behavior is the fact that our surroundings are filled with cues that signal old habits. Embedding environmental cues that prompt new behaviors, like visible reminders or attention-drawing changes, can be extremely helpful in promoting change. Including significant others in efforts to change is also a valuable tool. Involving others can mean sharing your goals and progress with friends and family, paring up with someone who’s pursuing similar goals and can help to keep you motivated and on track, or joining a support group where you can share your struggles and successes and find encouragement. Whatever your goals may be, these strategies can help you to achieve them. Equipping yourself with these powerful tools will help you to effect and maintain the positive changes you want to see.

The Lost Art of Learning from a Mentor

Written by Miri Korbman

In an age where YouTube tutorials can turn “Average Joes” into experts overnight, learning is quickly becoming a lost art. Terms like “teacher” and “student” are being rendered superfluous to the culture of “self-made”, “self-taught”, and “do-it-yourself”. Lifelong learners, however, make sure to have mentors that can provide continued guidance, and are always open to learning new things, even about themselves. The attitudes and practices of these individuals have many potential benefits for emotional and psychological well-being. Though school is still out for the summer, let’s explore two positive influences that continued learning could have on our lives:

  1. Connecting with Others

One of the primary sources of interpersonal strife is the sense that “I am right”. When we believe that we have learned all there is to know about a topic, or worse – all there is to know about ourselves – we become arrogant, wary of other peoples’ advice, and altogether less accepting of others. This leads us to disconnect from our loved ones, our friends, or our coworkers, and can add untold stress and negativity to our daily lives. Lifelong learners, however, are always receiving guidance, long after graduation from formal education. This invaluable mentorship enables us to interact in a more positive way with others.  Learning from a mentor can therefore save us much interpersonal struggle. However, this requires being open to constructive criticism – learning to accept criticism from our mentors, coworkers, or even friends is a foundation of what it means to be a perpetual learner, and is an integral part of working well with and for others. Thus, instead of being wholly convinced that we are always right in our opinions, beliefs, or methodologies, having a mentor teaches us the most important lesson of all: the humility to recognize that others may be right even if we think we know better. Though it is of course important, even imperative, to have certain values and standards that remain firm and consistent, rigidity and a lack of openness to accepting guidance are counterproductive. As Winston Churchill once said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It serves the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Learning to accept criticism is pivotal to interpersonal relationships.

  1. Self-Growth

Another problem with feeling that “I am right” is that we are not, in fact, always right. This is particularly problematic when it comes to our own self-awareness. When we think we know everything there is to know about ourselves, the way we operate, or our limitations, we become unwilling to try new things, even if they will benefit us. If we are convinced that we alone really know what to do for ourselves, we will be very hesitant to comply with even the best well-meaning advice, and miss out on many opportunities. Imagine a young entrepreneur named Bob has just been offered a prestigious position at a Fortune 500 company. The only problem with this dream job is that Bob has a fierce phobia of heights – and his office is on the 59th floor. He approaches his therapist (a modern form of mentor) for help.

Bob: Doc, you gotta help me get over this fear of heights- it’s going to ruin my career!

Doc: Ok, Bob, I think we can help you get through this. Let’s start by having you go up to the 10th floor.

Bob: NO WAY! Are you crazy!? I know myself- I could NEVER do that! I’ll die!

And so Bob leaves his therapist’s office, continues to be afraid of heights, and never does accept his would-be-dream-job, turning down the opportunity to learn from a real live human being (i.e., a mentor), because of the conviction that he was right. Being willing and able to accept guidance from a mentor is integral to personal and psychological growth. It is often scary to push ourselves through new experiences, even when it is those very experiences that we need to grow. If we are looking to be perpetual learners and are open to the advice and even criticism of others, finding a mentor (or therapist) from whom we can receive this guidance can help us to set ourselves up for success in our emotional and psychological lives, as well.

In sum, being a perpetual student means remaining open to new experiences, new ideas, and new ways to learn, but it also means being able to learn from a mentor! Cultivating the ability to receive from others, be it knowledge or critique, can help us to develop emotionally and intellectually, and shape us into more patient, receptive, knowledgeable, and personable people. Perhaps this summer – before the school year starts again – we can rethink what it means to be a lifelong learner, no matter the season, and identify mentors that we can turn to for advice.

The grass is always greener right over here!

Written by Debra Alper

It’s a cliché, but so often it seems frustratingly true – Why is the grass always greener on someone else’s lawn??

Call it the envy of what others have, insecurity about one’s own standing, or as some have dubbed it “the grass is always greener syndrome,” the belief that something else is always something better holds us back in many ways. In particular, when we look outside ourselves for the next better thing, we misdirect our energy, pushing us farther from where we want to be. When we preoccupy ourselves with fantasies about a different life, we are in essence distracting ourselves from our reality, and preventing ourselves from accepting and potentially improving that which we do have.

In recent years, acceptance has gained traction among mental health providers as a skill that is often key to one’s mental wellness and satisfaction. But in fact, philosophers and sages have been extolling the virtues of acceptance for ages. From the time of the biblical David, Judaic writings teach: “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” Put another way, happiness is not necessarily getting everything you want, but finding a way to want the things you have. This is certainly true in the realm of mental health: for many of us, the key to contentment and peace of mind is to look less closely at what others have, and instead turn that focus inward.

While the task of accepting what we have and maximizing it is a life long endeavor, the benefits of committing ourselves to this task are tremendous. When we focus on what we don’t have, envying the grass on someone else’s lawn, we convince ourselves that we are at a disadvantage, lacking what we need to achieve success and happiness. How then can we expect to feel, but sad, frustrated, and lacking motivation? Conversely, when we are face to face with what we do have, honestly accepting both the limitations and the potential of our reality, we stand poised for truth growth.

Our lawn may be parched and overgrown, but once we accept that it us ours to work with, we can finally get to work! With some trimming and watering, and perhaps planting a few flowers here and there, the potential exists not to replace our reality, but to elevate it to greater and greater heights.