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
"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!"