Monthly Archives: December 2014

In Defense of Resolutions

Let me start out by saying that I don’t really buy into the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I spend my days trying to help people reach their goals all through the calendar year and January 1st is just an arbitrary starting point. Who says you can’t make a life change on June 25th?  Anyway, I think part of the reason that New Year’s resolutions don’t stick for some people is that January 1 serves as an external motivation factor. The “new year, new me” mentality tricks people into declaring goals that they haven’t thought out or planned,  or goals that they aren’t motivated enough to maintain. I ran across a Forbes article recently that noted that just 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Something is wrong here! What we know about motivation is that external (extrinsic) motivators are good for a “first push” toward a goal, but don’t often lead to sustained effort, which you need to carry out a year-long resolution. Internal (intrinsic) motivation is best because it is based on personal wants, desires, or values and this is not easily swayed by the changing external situation. Self Determination Theory poses that intrinsically based goals actually lead to better overall mental health and well being, too.  In other words, it’s important to think about WHY you’re setting the goal. Is this goal for you, or is it for status, recognition, or because someone else wants you to? Goals that are set on the basis of pleasing or impressing other people tend not to be as successful and tend not to make you happy. So ask yourself:

Is this resolution for me or for someone else?

Next, it’s important to set a good goal. What I mean by this is that there’s been lot’s of writing out there about ways to set goals that are more likely to lead to achievement of those goals. One of the more popular systems is the S.M.A.R.T. goal. SMART goals have 5 important characteristics. They are:

  • Specific– Goals are better when you make them as specific as possible. The more specific the goal, the clearer the picture of success and the easier it is to measure your progress. So, “I’m going to save $20 a week and deposit into a savings account at X Bank” is a lot better than “I’m going to save money this year.”
  • Measurable– It’s important to be able to know whether you’ve met your goal, so use language that can be quantified (numbered or counted) rather than relative language. Rather than saying, “I’m going to do better at going to the gym this year”, you could say “I will go to the gym at least 3 times per week.”
  • Attainable– Sometimes, we get a little carried away with our resolutions and make sweeping goals that we probably wouldn’t even be able to achieve in  year (or ever!). If you just started exercising, think carefully about whether a marathon is the appropriate next goal. This is not to say you shouldn’t set lofty goals, but it will be helpful to focus on some intermediate steps. For instance, maybe you want to quit smoking all together, but a more attainable goal for right now is cutting back. Then when you reach that goal, you can think about revising and expanding the goal.
  • Realistic– So, the first piece of this is making sure the goal is consistent with what you know about yourself. Does it match the skills and talents you currently possess or ones that you will work to develop? If not, you may want to reconsider.  Second, most people thrive when they set intermediate goals- ones that will present a challenge, but don’t feel overwhelming. Goals that are either too much or too little generally lead to lower motivation and exertion to complete them. Perhaps you want to eat healthier. If your diet consists of hamburgers and cheetos right now, it’s probably unrealistic to do a full transition to spinach salads and quinoa. So, a more realistic goal might be to trade out some of the unhealthiest foods for healthy ones or limit consumption of those foods to a day per week.
  • Time-Sensitive- Give yourself a timeline. If you have a goal that you think will take all year, use calendar dates as a way to meet some intermediate goals. Deadlines help to keep us focused and put the pressure on (hopefully in a healthy way) when we get a little distracted. So perhaps you may want to lose 60 pounds this year. It might be better to say you will lose 5 pounds by the end of each month as the time intervals are smaller and you can measure your progress along the way.

So take a minute to ask yourself:

Is my resolution SMART?

SMART goals help to “get your mind right,” so to speak, but there are some other things that can help you reach your goals too. Here are some suggestions.

  • Get a buddy. Social support is an excellent motivator for all kinds of goals. This could be in person accountability, or through online support groups or connections.
  • Don’t keep it a secret. We are more likely to achieve our goals when we’ve made them public- it helps to add a layer of both accountability and support. You could decide to tell your whole social media network, or just a few close friends- it’s up to you.
  • Keep track of your progress- with any goal, it’s important to keep track of what you’re working toward- perhaps this is keeping information in an app or journal on your phone, or maybe it’s visually representing your progress on a calendar.  I like to keep things visual because it helps remind me what I’m working toward and redirect if I’ve gotten off track.
  • Prepare for setbacks. Very few of us set a goal and carry it out flawlessly. You will mess up-it’s a part of the process. Just try to figure out what happened and get back on the wagon!
  • Consider rewards (or punishments) for intermediate goals. Though intrinsically based goals or best, some external motivation can’t hurt. Perhaps you could give yourself a reward (a massage, a new outfit or toy) once you reach a certain goal. You could set up some punishments if you don’t meet intermediate goals, but research indicates that contingent rewards tend to be more motivating.

After all this, maybe I’ll set a resolution this year after all! 🙂 Hopefully, this helps you to set a resolution that you can stick to and achieve. Happy New Year and make Well Choices!

Who’s in Your Circle?

I ran across this quote not too long ago and it really rang true:

People inspire you, or they drain you. Pick them wisely. — Hans F. Hansen”

The people that we surround ourselves with have a huge impact on us, whether we realize it or not. Because we spend time with them, our friend circle impacts our thought processes, our view on life, our goal setting, and much more. But how many of us are really careful about choosing our circle? Sometimes, it seems that our friend group develops by happenstance and often that leads to great friendships. I would argue, however, that every once in a while we should take inventory to make sure our friends are reflective of the type of person we want to be and be around. Friends should motivate us, encourage us, support us, and challenge us. If you’re finding that you have a friend with whom you dread spending time, it might be time to make some adjustments! Here are some qualities of good friends:

  • They share your values
  • They keep you accountable for reaching your goals
  • They see things in you that you don’t see in yourself
  • They accept your faults but continue to push you and challenge you
  • They tell you when you’re wrong
  • They keep what you say in confidence at all times
  • They suspend judgment
  • They pray for you
  • You can laugh and cry with them
  • They always have your back

I’m sure there are other things we might want to add to this list. Hopefully, this also has you reflecting on the kind of friend that you are. Do you give this in your relationships? Have you been slacking as a friend? It’s not too late to turn things around.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

Surviving the Holiday Blues

This time of year is hard for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Some people have seasonal mood shifts due to shorter days,  colder weather, and less sunlight (click here for more info on seasonal depression). Some people are thinking of and missing loved ones they may be estranged from or have lost due to death. Others may get overwhelmed by the stressors of trying to select and buy gifts they can’t even afford! For various reasons, people struggle.  Stress levels go up, and people can get more depressed and anxious.  But, the holidays don’t have to be a miserable time of year. Here are some of my suggestions for having a safe and happy holiday season.

1. Connect with friends and family. If you have positive relationships with family, try to figure out ways to connect with them. Maybe you can’t get to them in person, but you could arrange to video chat or put in a phone call when you know others will be together. Spend time with friends if you can’t get to family. The holidays can be a great time to reconnect with people you haven’t kept in touch with, or to try to mend relationships that may be in need of repairing. If you’ve lost a loved one, take some time to honor and remember them as a part of the holidays. Perhaps you can do this by continuing a tradition they loved, lighting a candle, looking at pictures, or simply talking about them! Just because they are physically gone doesn’t mean they are no longer a part of your family. Another option is to connect with social or religious groups. Relationships matter.

2. Give back. Altruism is a great thing to do any time of year, but during the holiday season when we can get caught up in materialism and “stuff,” it can be helpful to have some perspective and take some time to be (or give) a gift to someone less fortunate than you. For the past couple years, my family has chosen to do that instead of giving gifts for Christmas. Some years we will adopt a family, or volunteer to serve a meal, or give a monetary gift to someone in need. Maybe you know of a friend who is lonely or isolated this time of year and you can set aside an afternoon to spend time with them- what a gift!

3. Set some boundaries. One of the great gifts we can give to ourselves and others is to be honest about our limitations around this season. Set a budget and stick to it. Is that Christmas gift really worth 13 months of credit card interest? Perhaps it’s letting family know that they won’t get gifts this year, or that they will get hand made gifts (my favorite!!) Perhaps it’s knowing that as much as you love your family, being around them for too long will be stressful. Maybe the boundary is internal and you need to balance social time with some alone time. Everybody is different so listen to your own needs! For me, I love family time, and it’s important to get some serious alone time. Blame the introversion. So, I work to balance social time with carving out time for me.

4. Remember what this is all about. Perhaps this should have been the first bullet. For me as a Christian, the real purpose of this season is an anticipation and excitement that God thought enough of me to send a Savior, born into humble circumstances for a divine purpose. When I think about the gravity of that gift, any item I can buy in a store pales in comparison. Sometimes we get so lost in the commercialism that we lose a sense of wonder and gratitude. Focusing on the true meaning of the celebration can keep us in check.

5. Keep up the self-care. A lot of times people’s schedules change during the holidays, and it can be easy to lose track of your sleep schedule, exercise regimen, and let’s not forget the holiday desserts! It’s important to try to keep up the things you normally do to try to keep yourself healthy. I’m not saying don’t indulge, because for some people that would be unreasonable, but also keep in mind that those schedules serve to regulate our minds and bodies and losing them can exacerbate the potential for holiday stress.

These certainly aren’t all the tips, but hopefully they can be a good start. The important thing is to do what you need to do to take care of yourself.  For more tips, check out this Mayo Clinic Article: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

Down with Codependency!

In church a few weeks ago one of the sermon points was about how codependency can negatively impact both individuals and relationships. I realized that we throw that term around a lot, but we may not really know what it means. Co-dependency is a term that comes from research and treatment of families in which there is a drug addict or alcoholic. In these families there are often people who protect the addict (and the family) against the consequences of the addition- this person is called the Enabler. The Enabler can be a child, spouse, parent, or sibling. They often act in ways that they feel are helping the person- perhaps lending them money, covering up the ill effects of poor decisions, lying about the addictive behavior to other family members, the list goes on. Well, co-dependency is not just regulated to folks with addictions- it happens every day in many of our families and friendships. Perhaps we know a friend is acting in self-destructive ways in their relationships, but we keep feeding into their ideas that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Perhaps we see a sibling misusing their money on frivolous things, but we lend them money whenever they ask, pulling out the “it’s none of my business” card.

The truth is, the people we love ARE our business. We are to care about them, love them, support them, AND challenge them when necessary. But it is not our responsibility to protect people from the natural consequences of their actions. Doing so prolongs the time that they continue to engage in destructive behaviors, and leads to stress and frustration for the people around them. A lot of Enablers do so because they feel an exaggerated responsibility to make sure that everyone around them is alright, often to the detriment of their own wants and needs. They are more likely to push things under the carpet in an effort to not cause conflict or “suck it up” even in situations where they are deeply hurt or disappointed. They may have even been told explicitly or implicitly (without words) that this is their role in the family. Co-dependency leads to people staying in destructive relationships longer than is necessary and can often lead to shame, guilt, and self-criticism. These relationships can be intense, and sometimes even exciting, but they are not healthy, and not sustainable.

Wondering if this is you? Answer these questions from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency

1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?
3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own?
6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?
7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?
8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
10. Have you ever felt inadequate?
11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?
12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?
13. Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
19. Do you have trouble asking for help?
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, you may struggle with co-dependency. It’s worth checking it out with someone you trust, even a mental health professional. Co-dependency is a difficult interpersonal dynamic but it is not impossible to overcome. The first step is vigilantly valuing your needs and and the validity of your experience. The second step is understanding that you are not solely responsible for the behavior, opinions, or needs of others. You get the final say in your own life, and you do not have authority over someone else’s.

 What are ways you can combat co-dependency?

  • Pay attention to yourself. Often, people who are co-dependent are so intent on other people that they pay little attention to themselves. Set aside some time on a daily basis to self-evaluate, tune in to yourself, and take a break.
  • Practice using your “no” muscle. Before you agree to do something, truly ask yourself if you have the time, energy, and/or desire to accomplish it. Prioritizing yourself does not automatically make you a selfish person.
  • Let go of some control. Sometimes people become co-dependent because they are trying to control every aspect of their family or relationship. It’s just not possible. Ask yourself: are there some things I can let go?
  • Prepare for backlash. Many folks don’t respond well to change. Sometimes, when you are in the process of getting healthier, people don’t like that you’ve changed your ways. It’s ok. As you become responsible for you and only you, the people around you are given the opportunity to do so for themselves.
  • Remind yourself of ways co-dependency can be harmful to the people you love- it keeps them stuck, it helps them maintain a stance of denial, it prevents them from maturing.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

Other Resources on Codependence:

Print:

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Battle
Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody, Andrea Miller, and Keith Miller
Codependence and the Power of Detachment: How to Set Boundaries and Make Your Life Your Own by Karen Kasey

Online

http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/signs-of-a-codependent-relationship

http://coda.org/index.cfm/meeting-documents/patterns-and-characteristics-2011/

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/ending-codependency-in-relationships-find-and-live-who-you-really-are/