Frame Your Goals for the New Year in Positive Language
by MATT COBBLE
As the last days of 2019 tick away, the blank canvas of 2020 stands dauntingly ahead. Many of us will aim for self-improvement by way of New Year’s Resolutions. However, statistically speaking, the majority of resolutions are disregarded or forgotten by the time Punxsutawney Phil goes looking for his shadow. So why is it that, despite our best intentions on New Year’s Day, our plans for change usually don’t make it off the first page of the calendar?
Mary Joye, a licensed mental health counselor and life coach in Winter Haven, believes she knows why resolutions fail: “Resolutions are RE-Solutions. They can be punitive in nature as they are all about deprivation of calories or increasing exercise you don’t enjoy. A SOLUTION is better. You aren’t trying to re-solve how to get rid of all those holiday calories.” Joye says this initial negative framework sets our brains on a slippery slope away from the change we desire.
“If failure is perceived, negative guilt sets in and positive change stops.”
Luckily for all of us who are wanting to start 2020 on a stronger foot, Joye does have advice on what to do instead: “Solve this problem by adding something good to your life or reframing the language of what you are attempting.”
She uses the example of one of the most common resolutions: I need to try and lose weight. In one sentence, she points out three word choices that put us on the defensive. “‘Needing’ implies lack. ‘Trying’ implies a failure mindset is in place, and ‘lose’ is a negative word.”
Instead, she reframes the same idea using positive language: I want and am going to live a healthy, happy life this year. “Feel the difference from negative to positive? ‘I want’ and ‘I am’ statements are more positive, and will result in being good to yourself by incrementally adding healthier lifestyle choices.”
Why does such a small change have such an big impact? “Small semantic adjustments result in huge mindset changes,” Joye says. “Think of how people say, ‘I need chocolate’ versus ‘I want a piece of chocolate’….The person who needs chocolate may eat the whole candy bar. The person who wants it will self-regulate better.”
But sometimes our goals do leave us a little discouraged, especially when they are for significant change and our progress is not as quick as we would like. For these instances, Joye recommends guided meditation. “Meditation is the mediator between the subconscious and the conscious through brain wave intercommunication. Soft music, shutting your eyes and solitude for as little as 10-15 minutes a day will help you.” In the long run, using visualizations to picture yourself as you wish to be — a thinner, kinder, or more prosperous version of yourself — can help you to push past the subconscious urges that drove you toward the bad habits you wish to break.
In the short term, of course, meditation is also relaxing. “Get professional help if you can’t get the hang of it,” Joye adds. “Or use guided meditations on YouTube.”
Making New Year’s Resolutions is not right for everyone, Joye feels. “Merely making a decision to give up something bad is less effective than adding something good to life.” As an example, if you are someone who wishes to stop using profanities, Joye suggests setting up a swear jar; where every time you swear, you add a bit of money to it. “When you stop the behavior, reward yourself with something nice!”
In certain cases, Joye recommends individuals not make resolutions. “Anyone who has a tendency to be hard on themselves or has feelings of guilt or shame should not make resolutions.” Instead, her advice to anyone like this “is seek the root of the guilt or shame with a professional or personal insight and seek to resolve negative emotions.”
Joye also offers some simple advice to help you achieve some common resolutions.
Worry Less – “If you worry you are already meditating, but to the negative…Exercise relieves and reduces stress hormones. Gratitude is also wonderful as worry and thankfulness don’t coexist in the brain well.”
Get Organized – “It’s overwhelming to clean the WHOLE garage. Begin with one shelf or one corner…Learn to purge, not merge. If you buy a new shirt, release an old one to someone in need.”
Enjoy Life to the Fullest – “Do less of what you feel obligated to do and more of what you want to do.”
Be Kinder to Others – “Pay compliments. Write good reviews instead of angry ones. Complain less. Praise more…Kindness is so rewarding. Anger is exhausting.”
Exercise More – “Just do it! It relieves anxiety, depression and achieves a sense of well-being.”
Stop Procrastinating – “Find the root of it. Do you fear failure or success?…Perfectionists obsess so much about doing things right they don’t do them at all.”
Save Money – “Do more than save. Invest in your future. It pays compounded interest. Just a little bit early in life can make you a millionaire at 50 or 60…Instant gratification is fleeting happiness. Delayed gratification pays great dividends in every area of your life.
As for her own resolutions? “I don’t make them.…I choose my birthday to begin healthier changes…It’s more personalized. The best gift you can receive is self-care in body, mind and spirit.” Focusing on one time of the year as a time of self-improvement puts too much pressure to succeed. “It’s just a day…Invest in your entire life. If you live to be 100, you only have 36,500 days on this planet…Time is the most precious commodity and can’t be bought or sold, but it can be spent wisely and happily. Make that your resolution every day!”