Category: Wellbeing

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.

It’s the Most Loneliest Time of the Year

Written by Yoni Sobin

This time yearly, society blasts us with holiday music, jingles, lights, and festivities as individuals of all backgrounds celebrate holidays both secular and religious. We’re told this is a time for family, coming together, and celebration. We’re supposed to feel happy, joyful, and full of light. For many, this is their reaction to the holiday season. People talk about gathering for family dinners, “going home for the holidays,” and Aunt Mildred’s comments that elicit humorous glances among siblings.

For others, however, the holidays embody a more uncomfortable and emotion – loneliness. Not everyone has strong family ties, family that lives nearby. Not everyone can afford buying gifts without financial strain and not everyone is reminded of pleasant holiday memories. For some, family causes much distress, especially when we are around them for extended periods of time.

To make matters worse, moods often shift as the weather gets colder and many individuals experience a variation of Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal fluctuation pattern. Cold makes people less likely to leave their homes, and also makes people less likely to exercise, which would improve depression. Individuals may also socialize less with friends and family, adding to one’s loneliness.

Loneliness is not inconsequential. It can lead to depression, reduced quality of life, (ironically) social isolation, and even increased mortality risk! By nature, humans are social beings, and we yearn for connection. Socially isolated individuals are therefore at a higher risk for suicide, especially individuals of geriatric age.

Thus, as we hunker down for the cold months ahead, it’s important to keep regular social connections. We need to push ourselves extra to get through the rough patch of the year called winter. Rather than choosing to isolate, to disengage in the comfort of our warm, toasty homes, let’s make an extra effort to remain connected. Pick a night in the future and invite people over for a game night. Create a “social checklist” for yourself, and each day tick something off that list. Even the smallest of gestures can improve one’s quality of life, such as smiling at someone on the subway during your ride each day to work, wishing the person behind the check-out counter a “Happy Holidays”, or saying “Shabbat Shalom” someone at your local synagogue. You can also check out www.meetup.com, a website to facilitate social interaction based on shared interests. Enjoy reading? There a group for that. Knitting? There’s a group for that too. Comic books? Yup. They’ve got that. Scrabble, Cards Against Humanity, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jewish, Muslim. You name it, there’s a group of like-minded people out there. Other opportunities might present themselves in the form of adult education classes to learn about painting or writing or something else. All of these basic social activities not only promote interaction and reduce loneliness, but they help us to hone skills and we feel accomplished and more confident. Parent/toddler groups can also provide social opportunities for single or stay-at-home parents. Getting a massage or a visit to the doctor’s office can relieve some loneliness by providing interactions which, though in some ways superficial, allow for opportunities to meet others. Even the internet can help reduce loneliness and boredom. How else would you have found this blog post?

On a community level, we can also reach out to those individuals to increase the chances to socializing with peers. If you know someone who you suspect might be struggling with loneliness, invite them over to your apartment or house for a warm cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa. Be active rather than passive, and don’t expect those who may be struggling with season depression to ask for help. Ask your friends and neighbors how they are doing, building your own social connections further.

For some individuals though, loneliness and sadness have become so much the norm that it’s a struggle to do these things on their own. In such cases, asking for help from a professional is the best way to help yourself. Particularly if you struggle with thoughts related to harming yourself or worse – while these thoughts are normal, especially if you feel alone, it’s a sign that it’s time to ask for help.

Decisions, Decisions…

Written by Thanos Nioplias

Making decisions is a complex process that has been examined from various fields including cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. Decision making is also very relevant to psychotherapy, since difficult dilemmas are a known source of anxiety, frustration, and feelings of helplessness for many people. Choosing between two career paths, between two romantic partners, or the right mental health treatment can lead one to stay up at night, procrastinate, and constantly seek reassurance from friends and family by asking questions such as “Is this the right choice?” “What would you do if you were me?” “But are you sure?!”

From a therapeutic perspective, feeling anxious and helpless when having to make hard choices is related to intolerance towards uncertainty – reacting negatively to uncertain situations and events. When anxious individuals face a dilemma, they tend to tell themselves that they wouldn’t be this anxious if only they knew how their life would turn out with each of their two options, while they also make draining efforts to achieve an absolute sense of certainty that their decision is the right one. The reality, however, is that uncertainty is part and parcel of life – achieving 100% certainty about anything is impossible.

How can we be more efficient when facing stressful decisions? First, it can be helpful to refocus on one’s values and goals in life. Instead of calculating possibilities and probabilities, reflecting on one’s internal values and objectives that they want to guide them in decision making can help restore equilibrium and calmness. For example, ask yourself questions like: “What am I aiming for in making this decision, and how does it fit into my overarching life goals (e.g., building relationships with family, establishing financial security, growing spiritually)?” “What are the characteristics I want to embody in this process” and “When I look back on this problem one year from today, what are the values that I would like to have influenced my choice and therefore my life?”

Second, it is important to acknowledge that we live in a world that is filled with uncertainty, and that we have much less control of future possibilities than we believe that we do. Instead of trying to eliminate any risks when making decisions, one can accept and even embrace the idea that risk is inherent in every hard choice! Even though acknowledging your limited capacity to control and predict future risks is frightening, it can also be surprisingly liberating. In other words, the only variable that you may be held liable for when making a decision is not about the risk you did not foresee, but about acting in a way that was incongruent with your values and the person you wanted to be!

Third, accepting uncertainty is not an easy process and therefore it takes practice for one to master. For instance, when ambivalent about smaller decisions – such as which restaurant to go to or what to order from the menu – you can practice making a quick decision and accepting the risk that the decision they are making is actually the wrong one! In other words, learn how to make decisions while accepting all potential outcomes instead of reaching a sense of certainty prior to making a choice.

Good luck and over time you will learn to choose wisely!