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January 8, 2003


Emory Psychologist Puts New Year's into Perspective

It seems to be human nature to begin the new year with good intentions and then to get sidetracked by life itself. Strategies developed by Emory University School of Medicine psychologist, Dr. Nadine Kaslow, have given her a formula for staying on track.

People all over the world use the New Year's holiday to measure how they are doing as a human being and to begin fresh with a long list of resolutions.

"My first rule is to talk about 'goals' rather than 'resolutions'," said Kaslow, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. "A resolution implies that if you stray from your resolve, you have already failed. On the other hand, having a realistic goal is much more likely to be attainable because goals are reached one step at a time."

Kaslow recommends having categories of goals, such as health, relationships, work, etc. She suggests writing down those goals and checking monthly on how well you have done, determining barriers to progress, and rewarding yourself for the gains you have made. At the end of the year, she suggests a session with a buddy, significant other, or counselor to discuss what you did and didn't accomplish.

"Most importantly for me is to confide in my best friend," said Dr. Kaslow. "That friend helps me to set realistic goals, and then supports me with encouragement as I struggle along."

Another important step is to make sure the goals are measurable. "For example, instead of saying that you are going to lose weight, say you are going to diet responsibly. Instead of saying you are going to exercise, say you are going to walk three days a week."

The goals must be attainable and internal. Your partner or your parents or your close friends can't decide for you that it's time for you to take more time for yourself, or to go back and finish your degree. Only you can decide what motivates you and what you are capable of accomplishing. Once you have made that decision, remove all temptation until you are confident that you have the willpower to get past it.

"Removing sweets from the house may be enough to help you lose a few pounds. But don't deprive yourself altogether. "It's perfectly fine to allow yourself a treat now and then," said Dr. Kaslow. "However, that may not work for people who want to quit smoking or drinking. There is a gap between having a goal to relinquish a bad habit, and having a goal to stop an addiction that involves changes in brain chemistry. It may be necessary to get some outside help such as a support group or a professional counselor."

As you look back over the year, remember to take into account the positive things you have done that were not on your goal list. "For example," said Dr. Kaslow, "although spending quality time with my good friends and deepening those relationships was a goal for me, I had not stated that forging new relationships was a priority. But I was pleased to realize at the end of the year that I did end up developing new relationships."

Sometimes life can throw us a curve. Illness, divorce, loss of a job and other unexpected crises can interfere with our good intentions. "Be sure to give yourself credit for getting through the rough times, and try again next year. When 2004 comes, surround yourself with good friends and celebrate your accomplishments," said Dr. Kaslow. "That's what the New Year is really all about!"

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