Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.
~Oprah Winfrey

Here we go again – it’s that time of year where many people decide, ok, THIS time I’m really going to do it. This is my New Year’s Resolution for 2020, the new year, the new decade. I’m going to (fill in the blank). What usually happens? Depending on which study you read, anywhere from one third to one half of all resolutions fall by the wayside by the end of January, or surely by March.

The most common resolutions are (I’m sure you can guess) losing weight, eating better and exercising, and stopping smoking. Others might include saving more money, cutting back on alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, repairing relationships with family or friends, doing better at work, or any one of many things you wish you had done last year but didn’t.

Why didn’t it happen? Most likely because whatever the goal was, you were all gung-ho and set something that was unrealistic to achieve, and you didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to change a habit you’ve had for a long time. No getting around the fact that we are creatures of habit, and most of what we do in our lives is habitual. Think about how you get ready in the morning. I’m guessing you do nearly exactly the same things in exactly the same order. Just because that’s how you do it. You don’t think about it, it’s just a habit. Not all habits are bad, btw. But it’s important to understand how ingrained our habits are, and therefore how hard it is to change them.

A way to get started is to change certain routines or habits that don’t really have anything to do with the resolution you’ve made. Do something in a different order. Take a different way to work. See friends you don’t usually hang out with. If you always buy a coffee from the vendor on the corner, get one from a different vendor. In other words, interfere with what you can identify as something you do habitually.

So in order to achieve your goals, to, as Oprah says, “get it right,” you need to think about how you’re going to go about it. I have seen too many people come in at the beginning of the year, proudly telling me how they’ve joined a gym, and are going seven days a week! Seven days a week? If you don’t already have a regular routine of going to the gym, do you really think you’ll be able to keep that up? What almost always happens is someone goes seven days a week for maybe two to three weeks, max. Then something comes up and it’s six days. Then five, then four… then frustration, discouragement and guilt set in, and you quit.

Set a realistic goal. Instead of an likely unachievable five six or seven days/week, make it TWO. Yes, just two. Two days a week. But that’s not enough, you’ll say. I disagree. For right now, if you haven’t been exercising, two days a week is plenty. BUT. Make an absolute commitment to those two days a week. Come hell or high water, you’re going two days a week. Doesn’t matter if it’s two days in a row, or on the weekend, or two regularly spaced days. What matters is you commit to going two days a week and you do it. You have the rest of your life to increase it to more.

When two days a week is solidly under your belt (I’d say one month minimum, though you’ll read experts who say it takes two months to form a new habit) and it really doesn’t feel like enough, then add ONE more day. And again, if you’ve added a day, then stick to it. It’s hard! Yup. It’s hard. But as I often say to people who complain that something is hard, just because it’s hard doesn’t let you off the hook if you’re serious about making a change.

Something like quitting smoking may be more difficult. You may want to consult a doctor or quitting smoking expert first, or make your own plan. One way to do it, if you’re, say, a pack-a-day smoker, is every time you buy a new pack, you take out one cigarette and give it away (or throw it out). Continue doing that for a month. Then, the next month, ditch two cigarettes from the pack. And so on. There are other ways – using a nicotine patch, going cold turkey – which may problematic, because as you surely know, nicotine is addictive.

Losing weight is another resolution that more often than not, ultimately fails. You went on a sure-fire diet that’s worked in the past. You may lose five or ten pounds, but somehow it just comes back again. The reason diets fail, is because what happens is the diet only works for as long as you stay on it. You reach your goal, then go back to your old eating habits, and guess what… For it to work you need to think not in terms of a “diet” – diets don’t work – but a change of lifestyle. A permanent one. Whether it’s counting calories, reducing carbohydrates, eliminating fat (not every way works for everyone, use the one that works for you), you’ll have to think of it in terms of a permanent change in lifestyle. Again, consulting your doctor or a nutritionist for a healthy way to achieve the goal is always a good idea.

Keep in mind that change is a process, and a process isn’t instantaneous. In our new world of immediate this and instantaneous that, unrealistic expectations are bound to take hold. Deferred gratification is not part of most people’s thinking.  Be realistic, start small, and don’t decide to change several things at once. Prioritize your goals and pick the most important one to start with. And be specific. Instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” say “a realistic goal for me is to lose ten pounds over the next six months.” Doesn’t sound like enough, does it. Ten pounds in three weeks is never going to happen, or if it does, I promise you it will be right back sooner than you think, with some extra bonus pounds to boot. Again, you want to make a permanent change in lifestyle, and you have the rest of your life to accomplish it, so start small.

One other thing. If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up. It’s normal to fall off once in a while and it’s ok to have dessert on a special occasion, or to miss the gym because you’re on vacation somewhere where there is no gym. Forgive yourself, and be resolute on resuming once you’re back. Anticipate that there might be problems. Figure out in advance how you’re going to deal with them. Guilt-tripping yourself, giving up because you messed up, fear that you’ve fallen off track will sabotage your effort. Start over. Persevere. If you start small, set realistic goals, stick to them, understand that it’s a process that will take time, THIS time, you’ll have a much better chance at success.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy 
not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
~Socrates

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