Dr. Rika Tanaka, Ph.D.

With the New Year (finally) upon us, there are likely many of us feeling inspired to make changes—big or small—to better ourselves or the world around us. As any anyone who has tried can attest, making a “New Year’s resolution” and keeping it can be quite challenging! Whether you are wanting to eat healthier, exercise more, pick up that project you have been holding off, or improve your relationships—here are a few “tips” for making changes that last!

1) Find “the Why”: Before we embark on the challenge of change, we must think about WHY exactly we want to make such changes in the first place. Without “the Why,” it can be easy to lose sight of the original intent behind your resolution—making it that much harder to overcome barriers when they arise. When finding your “Why,” it’s important to make sure you take the time to go a bit below the surface. On the surface, the reasons for this behavior change may be obvious—”to be healthy” or “to feel better.” However, on extra-busy days, or when motivation is running low, we may need to dig deeper. How are the new behaviors connected to your ideas of the kind of person you want to be/become? Or how will these behaviors make a positive impact on those around you?

2) Define the Change: Taking the time to define specific and measurable goals is key to making sure you stay on track. “Eating healthy” or “exercising more” can have different meanings depending on many factors, including where you’re starting and what you’re hoping to achieve. By ensuring that your goals are specific and measurable, you can make more targeted plans for how to achieve these goals and have a better sense of how to troubleshoot along the way.

3) Plan Ahead: Planning for potential obstacles or barriers is an often-overlooked part of goal setting. It may feel counterproductive to plan for challenges when we are in a state of hope and inspiration. However, thinking through and even writing down your response to “what-if” scenarios can make it that much easier to navigate such situations when they arise. When we are in acutely stressed, we may not necessarily be the best problem-solvers. However, if we have taken a moment ahead of time to work through some of the more common or realistic barriers to maintaining the new behaviors, we can be more confident in our ability to find ways around such obstacles moving forward.

4) Find the Helpers: It can be easy to feel alone when considering changing old habits or picking up new ones. It might seem like some of these behaviors come “more easily” to others or that they are “lucky” not to have to think about such changes. It’s important to recognize that such assumptions can be counterproductive in that it can limit the network of people we can go to for support as we navigate the ups and downs of lasting behavior change. Whether it’s connecting with people who have similar goals as you, with those who are a few steps ahead, or professionals trained to help guide you through these changes, most lasting changes are not made alone or in a vacuum—and finding the right helpers can make all the difference in supporting you in your success.

5) Be Kind to Yourself: Behavior change is not easy. No matter how big or small your resolution, it’s important to be kind to yourself as you navigate the ups and downs of change. Unfair comparisons and harsh, reprimanding “should/should nots” can take a toll on our motivation to keep going when challenges arise. In these moments, I encourage you to remind yourself to work to validate the difficulty of the task you’ve taken on. Change is hard, so it’s okay to give yourself a moment to breathe, gather your thoughts, give yourself credit for all that you have done/achieved, and reconnect with your “Why,” before troubleshooting or reassessing your goals.

Dr. Rika Tanaka, Ph.D. (PSY30925) is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Coronado Psych, a psychology private practice in Coronado, CA. As a resident of Coronado and an expert therapist herself, Dr. Tanaka’s mission is to increase accessibility to the highest-quality mental health services to Coronado and the broader San Diego community. Coronado Psych’s expert team of therapists are dedicated to providing the most effective psychological services to clients of all ages (e.g. children, adolescents, young adults, adults, and seniors) and are currently accepting new clients. For more information about the services provided at Coronado Psych, please feel free to call (619-554-0120), email (info@coronadopsych.com), or visit their website at www.coronadopsych.com, to learn more.

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