“Don’t Stop Believin’…” by Dr. Ben Christiansen


We are one week in to 2017…so long 2016! So, the million-dollar question: where do you stand with this whole New Year Resolution thing? Are you one of the 40% of Americans who started off their new year with the same old, last-year’s-fruitcake-resolution? Or part of the 92% of Americans who the University of Scranton identified would fail to achieve their resolution? Or have you become the Resolution Scrooge; swearing off any self-improvement, with the goal of achieving comfortable mediocrity?

Do you find yourself singing with gusto “Hold on to that feelin’…” in a hope that this year, this time, you will slay your resolution dragon, achieve your goal, and conquer your demons? A quick Google search will provide pages of resolution advice. Each comes with its own “area of change” as if the approach and resolution for change comes from different streams of inspiration. Does the approach to weight loss, financial freedom, relaxation, or any other self-improvement project truly require a different approach?

Patients come into my office daily with the goal of achieving true self-change. They are downtrodden, tired, hurting, and yet yearning for a happier, healthier, and fuller life. I have always struggled with the idea of a “New Year Resolution.” When does a “New Year” start? Is the day after staying up late to beat pots and pans, drink bubbly, sing as off key as possible, and laugh that “we will feel this in the morning” truly the best way to start off a new chapter? I once watched a movie where one of the characters was eating everything in direct opposition to the USDAs recommendations simply because as he said “Well, tomorrow I go in for the Roto-Rooter on my heart, so why not live it up for one more night?”

So, if we are going to jump on this crazy train let’s rethink our approach:

  • BE HONEST – Be honest with yourself, if no one else. The truth is…I hate running. I believe that a person should run for only two reasons: 1) because they are being chased, or 2) because they are planning on running away. I watch my wife on her treadmill in awe and fear. I have never seen a bear in our house, so I am constantly checking for packed bags. For a resolution to be successful, we must really want it for ourselves. You can’t do it for someone else. Otherwise we will fail, give up, or grow to resent ourselves and others.
  • KEEP IT SIMPLE & REALISTIC – Sometimes we simply over-try, over-plan, and expect too much. When I graduated high school I was in decent shape, but I wanted to be in amazing With money in my pocket from my awesome teenager job at McDonalds (we won’t discuss the healthiness of the menu and its role in my fitness goals in this blog), I headed to the local gym. I rocked it! I worked out for two hours…on everything. Then as I went to leave I saw “The Beast.” An inclined, sit-up machine that was sure to immediately give me the washboard abs I knew was just one sit-up away from being chiseled from my already identified McDonalds’ physique. Because I am no quitter, I put that baby on the top bar. I WAS SPARTACUS, and this was my Rome! I started with a fierce explosion: 1, 2, rip! I crashed, tearing my abdominal muscle. Spartacus had fallen.
  • MAKE IT TANGIBLE & OBVIOUS – This is straight out of social psychology. Not all psychology included coming up with research ideas where someone was lied to, tortured, or retrained to salivate when a bell rings. Though I must admit that the golden aroma of bacon immediately equates to hunger and ecstasy. In this non-salivating experiment, researchers had individuals take a picture of a desired object and place it in an area where they were prone to act out in a contrary manner. For some, it was carrying a picture of a car they wanted in their wallet (symbolizing the required desire to spend money while knowing that it could go toward their dream car). While for others, it was a picture of someone in shape, a beautiful vacation, or a picture of an outfit on the fridge (thus requiring the individual to choose to eat unhealthy over achieving a fitness goal). This approach has repeatedly shown positive outcomes in achieving goals and is commonly used in other aspects of behavioral modification. When I learned about this approach, I finally removed my poster of Michael Jordan flying toward the rim from above my bed, and finally let my wife put up a grown-up picture after 20 years.
  • KEEP BELIEVING & BREATHE – Here is the reality: if it was easy it would not be a resolution. We would all be BORING! Part of being honest is to allow yourself to be human. I have several professional books on the art of change, the theory of change, and even the stages of change. Why? Because apparently, students have enough money to keep buying books on a topic that we have yet to conquer as a species. Allow yourself to feel, struggle, and even fail. Sometimes our best planning, greatest hopes, and most prestigious desires come up short. John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Man, was he correct! If I had given up on my resolutions when I first failed to achieve them, I would have missed road trips with my kids, laughs with my wife, and never had a chance to write my ramblings. My path definitely does not resemble my outlined resolution, but man! the view is amazing.
  • BE KIND – Be kind to others on this journey, but most importantly to yourself. My patients often hear me rant on the idea of “normal.” What is normal? I think it is safe to state that my wife, staff, and patients would all agree that I am truly not normal. And that, Kind Sir, is amazing! I love being me! I love dancing in the hallways with the princesses who visit my office, crawling on the floor, and arm wrestling my young people (seniors). If I can set no further resolution for myself…I have truly achieved the destiny of me.

So, what is in a resolution? When does, your new year begin? Perhaps it was a week ago, maybe it is in the Spring. Or, perhaps it’s around the next bend. Enjoy the journey. Allow yourself to grow. Amazingly, we all fell while learning to walk. So be honest, keep it simple, keep it in sight, believe in your ability to keep crawling, but most of all be kind. Especially to the one that matters most.

 

Best Wishes for the Journey Ahead,

Dr. Ben

Neuropsychology