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Coping With Everyday Life

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What This Blog is About

This blog is devoted to discussing how to cope with everyday life, and your hosts (see menu listing of your four blog hosts) will post information from the world of psychology, counseling, and education. Our message revolves around three basic themes: First there is acceptance. There are certain basic truths in life that we simply must accept before we can decide how to act. Second is the notion of meeting challenges. Unfortunately, too often we avoid challenges that confront us because it’s the easy thing to do. Successful coping, however, requires us to take a more difficult road and meet life head on. Third, we must learn what things are under our control. We get in all sorts of difficulties when we try to control things we can’t. The truth is there are only two things we can control: Our own thoughts and our own actions.

We invite our readers to join in our discussion and share their own insights. This blog is not an advice column, but a forum in which to share ideas.

If you are interested in pursuing the psychology literature on any topic we cover, feel free to contact us by email at charlesbrooks@kings.edu. We also encourage you to visit our website (www.subtlesuicide.com) to learn about our published books on subtle suicide, dysfunctional giver/taker relationships, and research on how psychology applies to everyday life.

DO MATERIAL REWARDS RUIN KIDS’ FUN?

A retired psychologist lived down the street from a middle school (grades 6, 7, and 8 – the jungle years). One day, a group of three boys began to mess with his car, which was parked on the street in front of his house. He was, after all, an old man, and what better fun could three adolescents have than to pile leaves, sticks, rocks, and dirt on his car on their way to school.
In case you haven’t learned this lesson already, never mess with a psychologist! After the boys had continued for three straight days, he came out of the house and yelled, “Good job, kids. Come here. I’ve got a dollar for each of you.”
“Huh?” they wondered. “The old bird wants to pay us for messing up his car?”
For the next two weeks, the ritual repeated itself. The kids would come by every morning, toss whatever lawn debris was available onto the car, and then go and collect their dollar for a job well done. They guessed the old man was nuts, but figured what the hell, they were getting free money every day.
Then it happened. One day they trashed his car but he didn’t come out to give them the buck. They went to the front door, rang the bell, and asked, “Where’s our dollar? We dumped grass and leaves and dirt all over your car like always. Where’s our pay?”
“Times are tough for me, kids,” he replied. “I’ve got to cut back on my spending so I can’t pay you anymore. Sorry.”
“Well screw you,” one of them said. “You don’t pay, we’re not messin’ with your car anymore!”
Seems that the psychologist had turned something that was fun for them into a paying job, and when he withheld their pay, they quit the job!
Maybe the story wouldn’t end like that, but you get the point. If we try and get our kids to do things by giving them some sort of material reward like money, a lollipop, a gold star, a trophy, or whatever, does that type of reward stifle their interest in the task, so they just work to get the reward? Does the reward spoil the kids and mislead them about how life really works? Case in point: Participation Trophies. Should kids be given a trophy merely for participating in an activity regardless of effort or whether they win or lose?
Psychologists have researched this question: “When kids are having fun doing something and we come along and give them some material reward for doing so, are we going to destroy their fun?” The short answer is, “No,” but as always, things are not simple. Studies with children show that giving them a prize for something they enjoy doing tends to make them lose interest in the task once the prize is withdrawn. In other words, the prize seems to turn play into work.
Additional research shows, however, that we need to distinguish between rewarding kids for simply showing up versus rewarding them for improving their performance at something they already do. The bottom line is this: When we are rewarded for improving and doing something better than we did it before then the reward will not decrease our interest in the task. If given just for doing something, however, the reward tends to diminish interest in the task.
Imagine if there were only two grades in school: Pass and Fail. This arrangement could be compared to giving out a participation reward: Show up, behave, exhibit some basic preparation for tests, etc., and you get the Pass. This arrangement, of course, will not teach the student the value of an education, or the principle that your reward (grade) increases with your level of success.
We do not have to stop giving material rewards to their children for their actions. Things like sports trophies, gold stars in the classroom, and money for chores all have an important place in teaching young people about their world. But let’s not overdo it. No coach wants youngsters to compete solely to obtain the league championship trophy. There should also be an intrinsic enjoyment of, and respect for, the sport; there should be an appreciation of the importance of teamwork, fair play, and putting forth one’s best effort to do well. Children should be taught that winning is not everything; rather, it is the effort put forth to win that is everything. A participation trophy will teach none of these important lessons.
No matter what the activity, children should be taught about the two greatest imposters they will ever face: Success and Failure. Both are imposters because success will have them believe they are better than they are, and failure will have them believe they are worse than they are. Kids must be taught that success comes as the result of preparation and effort, and that failure gives them information about where they need to improve and change so they can experience success. An excessive emphasis on material rewards will not teach that success results from preparation and effort, or that failure results from lack of these qualities.
And remember: These points apply to all of us, not just to kids. Your biggest coping enemy is when you try to avoid failure, because then you will never learn to correct mistakes and improve.
One final point: Social praise is an effective supplement to material rewards. Praise from others can help maintain intrinsic interest in a task, and even prove to be an effective substitute for material rewards. Bill, a colleague, told us how one day his eight-year old daughter Anne received all A’s on her report card. “You know,” Anne told him, “Jen’s parents give her $20 for every “A” she gets.”
“Well,” Bill replied, “I’m not Jen’s dad. I can tell you, though, how proud your mother and I are of you. You do a great job at school; you study and work hard, and that shows us the kind of person you are. You know, Mom and I were talking last night that this weekend would be nice to take a trip to the zoo or maybe even go swimming at the lake. [Anne likes both of these activities.] You’ve been working so hard at school lately, and done such a good job, why don’t you choose the family outing this weekend.”
The great part of the story is that Anne received a valued intrinsic reward for her performance (choosing a family activity). Bill was also happy because Anne chose a family trip to the zoo and he had that $20 to put toward the entrance fee.

 

STUPID CUPID, STOP PICKING ON ME! By Carlea

A shout out to our single readers.

That February date approaching is just what you need, right? A holiday to commemorate your status. As if being the third, fifth, seventh, or whatever wheel when you hang with your coupled friends isn’t enough, now even the calendar reminds you of being the “odd” person out. Being by yourself on such an in-your-face-schmoopie-kissy-frilly-schmaltzy day can really pack a wallop.

It’s really unfair. Maybe you’re a lone wolf by choice. Maybe you had a recent break-up. Maybe you’ve been out of the dating scene for a while. Maybe your partner passed away. Maybe you’re in a relationship but wondering where it will go (to paraphrase Beyoncé, if he likes it why doesn’t he put a ring on it?). Maybe you’re actually in a relationship but your partner just isn’t that into you. Whatever the reason, how do you cope with flying solo on Valentine’s Day?

The most important step is to change your perspective from being lonely to being alone. There’s a pretty powerful difference in connotation. “Being lonely” suggests something is missing or you’re lacking in some way; there’s a message of pity or rejection. “Being alone” says that, at this moment in time, you are an individual. You do not need a significant other to be significant.

Just because words like “lonely” and “alone” are usually synonyms doesn’t mean they express the same feeling. (While writing this, I’m having a flashback to the scene in the recent Muppets™ movie when Mary [Amy Adams] is telling Gary [Jason Segal] how she spent the whole day walking around Hollywood by herself. She really got her bitter point across with the help of a thesaurus.)

Once you can accept the difference between these two words, you may see that you’re not really lonely or alone. The expression “on your own but not alone” is quite a fitting coping strategy here. Remind yourself that, yes, you might not have a partner but you have friends; you have family; you have colleagues, acquaintances, classmates, etc. What’s the point of wallowing in the idea of “alone” when you actually have a support system at the ready? Kind of illogical, isn’t it?

So take advantage of your social network and plan an event. “Friendsgiving” is all the rage around Thanksgiving. Why not spread that love in February, too? Celebrate “Galentine’s Day” with your girlfriends. Call your cousin to find out about his new job. Students, meet some classmates on campus for a study session, with plenty of pizza, of course.

Your social group is busy? Go on the “coping attack”: treat yourself to something special. Pick up your favorite dinner; buy yourself the shirt you’ve been eyeing; go to the movies; get a mani/pedi; take a long walk or hit the gym; hang out at the local bookstore; challenge yourself to try something new.

Two final notes of caution. First of all remember that many spas, restaurants, and other venues offer Valentine specials. If you aren’t up to seeing people celebrating together, perhaps it’s better to spend your time somewhere else.  Secondly, if you decide on a bar or a local “meet up” place nearby, be careful! Some of the folks you meet might be less interested in romance and more interested in not being lonely.

If all else fails, take a page from the TV show FRIENDS and have a boyfriend bonfire. Apparently, good looking firefighters are just waiting for your call…

 

FEELING GUILTY AFTER SPANKING YOUR CHILD?

Jane is a 31-year old mother of a three-year old terror. She writes: “A few days ago I was on the phone with my mom discussing an issue we disagree about. My 3 year old son was being his usual loud and rowdy self, jumping around, trying to climb on my lap, whining, screaming, just mad that I was not giving him my undivided attention. Suddenly I lost it. I threw the phone on the sofa and gave him a couple of whacks on his behind while yelling for him to leave me alone because I was on the phone with granny. He was fully clothed so I knew the spank didn’t hurt him, but he looked at me surprised and really didn’t know how to react. I had never hit him before. He just plopped down on the floor and scowled at me. I got back on the phone and told mom we would have to argue later. I hung up and said mommy could play with him but he would have no part of it. I was marinating in guilt and I think he knew it. Have I ruined this kid for life? Have I put him on the road to dealing with conflict by being aggressive and lashing out at others?”

It’s not unusual for a parent to feel guilty after spanking a child. Even though many parents find childrearing quite a chore while the kids are young and at home, they try not to take out their frustrations on their children, especially by physically punishing them. Sometimes in the heat of battle, however, a well-placed smack on the buttocks or hand occurs almost automatically, before the parent even has time to reflect on the wisdom of the action. As a result, the parent may feel guilty afterward; “I spanked my kid. I’m a terrible parent and I’m ruining my kid for life!” The fact of the matter is, fearing such a long-term effect is not a reasonable fear in this situation.

A well-placed hand on a clothed child’s buttocks to make a firm point about an action (maybe something potentially dangerous like running into the street) is one thing; a consistent, daily pattern of hitting a child as the typical and standard way of delivering discipline is quite another. The former is not going to damage a child for life; the latter, however, the ongoing consistent pattern of physical punishment, just may do considerable psychological damage to a child. It is also important to distinguish spanking from out-and-out physical abuse, which would involve bruising and other physical injuries, and using objects like paddles and belts. We can’t imagine any situation that condones such abuse.

Here’s another story: “To be clear, I was most certainly not beaten as a child. However, once or twice ‘back in the day’ my father did threaten me with a belt (a wide leather strap really) that he had around the house. Well one day my unruly side came out and I did get the belt, on the backside…one time. That’s all it took. For the rest of my childhood that belt stayed in the doorway that led to our basement, and just seeing it was all the influence I really needed.  Was it effective punishment? Yes, but what did I really learn?  I learned to stay in line and to fear the belt, I suppose. But also, didn’t that fear then put my father in a negative light as the enforcer of the belt?  I suppose that could be true in many cases and possibly affect attachments down the line, but that one episode didn’t have long-term adverse effects on me.

“I have my own kids now and I don’t use any physical punishment, nor does my wife. These days it’s just too easy to be accused of simple spanking crossing a very blurry line and becoming something that say a teacher under strict mandated reporting has the duty to report further.  I don’t need that!  I also believe that violent acts breed violent acts; I spank, I teach the kid violence is the way to handle things. Not worth it.”

The observation about teaching a child inappropriate behavior is well-put. There can be no doubt that if you spank your child, even if only rarely, you are providing an aggressive model for the child. The fact that the punishment is given only rarely may not matter; in many cases, children show considerable learning from just one exposure to an aggressive model. The fact that the event is rare seems to produce more of an impression.

Here’s a teacher’s perspective: “Physical punishment only sends the message to fear the instrument (or provider) and not actually curb the behavior. In schools, we clearly can’t resort to physical punishment, but we do have the option of response-cost (taking away something preferred) or positive reinforcement (giving something preferred). I tend to use the latter much more often because it seems to be more effective. I’d rather do something to earn something (say, a paycheck) than have to act simply to avoid punishment.”

Disciplining a child without the use of physical punishment is a preferable parental style these days. Here are some steps to follow to help you adopt that style:

—-Accept that you are at times tempted to lash out physically; you are normal in that temptation.

—-If you act on the temptation, accept any guilt you may feel. Do not turn your guilt inward and decide that you are an evil person and terrible parent.

—-Identify elements of a situation that make you want to engage in physical punishment. Examine and evaluate those elements and your reactions so you can consider alternative forms of discipline.

—-Develop ways to remind the child that you are the one who controls rewards and privileges, and assert yourself by exercising that control without physical punishment.

—-Practice being verbally assertive in situations where you are tempted to lash out physically in anger.

—-Use positive methods like approval and rewards. You can be powerful and effective without having to resort to physically-hurtful actions.

—-If you are habitually using physical punishment against a child, seek help because your actions will only escalate into child abuse. You are probably insecure, on some sort of power trip, and have weak interpersonal skills. Excessive physical punishment will only hurt you and your children in the long-run anyway, so gaining just a bit of insight and exploring alternative actions can go a long way.

 

 

 

 

STAY “GOOD BUSY” TO COPE

Kim Cardone provided this post. It is full of valuable advice about coping with anxiety, and offers many specific actions you can take to make life more enjoyable.

Confession time. I am an anxious person. When did this began you might ask? I’m guessing I came out of the womb anxious and have dealt with it ever since. Of course, a child’s anxiety is a bit different from an adult’s, but it is still the same in that you FEEL “anxious,” often and for no reason.

I remember talking with my Gram about this and she would say, “One secret to dealing with being anxious is to keep ‘good busy.’” To which I replied, “Well, is there a keeping ‘bad busy’?” And she replied, “There sure is. There sure is.”

She was a wise woman. To this day, I have tried very hard to keep “good busy”…and it does help. If I may offer some keeping “good busy” suggestions, it would be these:

—-Call family or friends. Or text family or friends….hear their loving voices or read their calm and rational texts. It does help.

—-Read a book, magazine, textbook, instruction manual, etc.

—-Volunteer. Where? Anywhere!!!! Help is needed everywhere and in every community.

—-Take up a hobby.

—-Go for a walk. Walk the dog…good for both of you.

—-Go to your place of worship.

—-Meditate. Exercise. Sing. Dance.

—-Watch a favorite TV show or movie. Mine are always comedies or rom-com’s. They take me to my happy place.

—-Enjoy a good meal or a good snack or a good glass of vino or a favorite beverage. Key word is ENJOY.

—-And finally, breathe. Just breathe.

We may have been “born alone” but we are not alone. Not truly. Look around; there are lots of us on this planet, all shapes and sizes and colors and creeds and orientations. Reach out. Being an anxious person is no fun, I will freely admit to that. But dealing with being an anxious person has made me so very grateful for every good person who has ever helped me along the way and for every good thing in my life that has happened in spite of being so very anxious. To that end, thank you to all of my many support systems.  You rock!!!

Remember, keep “good busy.” Even if you are not an anxious person, keeping ”good busy” will help you cope on so many levels and at so many points in your daily life.

 

COPING WITH BEING A WORKING MOM

Years ago the typical early morning family scene in America involved hubby heading out for work, leaving his honey behind to get the kids off to school and prepare for a day of domestic chores. Today it is much more common for both husband and wife not only to be involved parents, but also to have active careers. When mom’s career involves leaving home daily for the workplace, childcare can become an important family issue. Child psychology teaches us that early human development is greatly influenced by the quality of the early child-caregiver attachment, especially with the primary caregiver. In American society that primary role typically falls to mom, so when she must leave her kids for the workplace, she often worries whether having others care for her children will harm the quality of her bond with them. If you are one of these moms you may suffer some guilt and anxiety every weekday morning. What a way to start the day!

Well, mom, let yourself off the hook. Be assured that it is the quality of time with your kids that matters, not necessarily the amount of time. You can provide rich quality time with both partner and kids after work. You should also realize that women who work are often better off psychologically than women who don’t. We should not take that statement as criticism of stay-at-home moms. Many such moms are perfectly happy, and some working moms are miserable. The problem is that society seems to see the working mom in a pressure-cooker work environment who is too tired at the end of the day to devote quality time to her children. That picture just doesn’t capture the reality of the working mom’s world, but it fosters nagging guilt in her.

As a working mom you have no need to fear playing multiple roles in your kids’ lives. Your comfort level is the key. In fact, heading home on Friday for a weekend with the toddlers after a particularly tough work week can be very pleasant and invigorating; by the same token, heading to work on Monday after a weekend of dealing with diapers, tantrums, and crying might be equally pleasant and invigorating!

If you are having some guilt about work causing separation from your children, here are some things to consider. They’re pretty obvious and simple things, but the actions that can help you cope effectively usually are obvious and simple.

—-Remember that working is not the issue. The things you do with your kids after work is the issue.

—-Involve the kids in dinner preparation, even if this involvement simply means removing take-out from boxes.

—-Help your kids with their homework every evening. If they’re not yet in school, do some learning activities with them that are appropriate for their level of cognitive development.

—-Do physical activities with them, again appropriate to their developmental level. If they are involved in formal school activities like sports, plays, band, etc., support these activities and attend events.

—-Schedule a special “talking with mom” time each evening. This is their time with you and let them determine the direction of conversation.

We bet you could add lots of actions to this list. They’re simple, aren’t they? But remember, effective coping actions do not have to be complex. Other problems tend to develop when we complicate issues, so focus on the obvious and keep things simple.

One final note — although we directed our comments at moms, they obviously apply to dads. More and more men serve as primary or co-primary caregivers, either as single dads or as working dads whose wife is also working. We didn’t mean to leave you out guys, so consider our effective coping actions as also applying to you.

 

 

 

 

 

CHALLENGES FOR PIONEER WOMEN IN AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGY

We have been noticing more and more current issues bearing on gender bias and challenges women face in the 21st century. Just a sampling: In 2014 the radical Nigerian group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls; Malala Yousafzai attained fame in 2009 at the age of 11 when she wrote critically of the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls, and she went on to win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17; The gender issues raised during the 2016 American Presidential election do not need repeating; Pope Francis recently said the Catholic Church ban on female priests would likely last forever; in November 2016 over 300 American gymnasts lodged complaints of sexual harassment by coaches and other training personnel spanning over 20 years.

These issues and others triggered some reflections on the role of women in the establishment of the psychology in America, and the lessons about coping they represent. Some of the facts are surprising. For instance, American women did not receive the right to vote until 1920 when the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Twenty-eight years before that the American Psychological Association (APA) was founded in 1892. In its second year of existence, 26 years before women received the vote, the men of the APA elected two women to full membership: Mary Calkins and Christine Ladd-Franklin. In 1905, Calkins was elected President of the APA and the first woman to serve in that office. In 1921, Margaret Washburn became the second woman elected to the position.

The stories of Calkins, Ladd-Franklin, and Washburn are models of coping because during their formative educational years, these gifted women faced obstacles from prestigious American universities that discriminated against women. Despite the obstacles, they all went on to become influential theorists and researchers in psychology.

Christine Ladd (1847-1930) graduated from Vassar in 1869 with a major in Mathematics. She applied to Johns Hopkins University for graduate work under the name C. Ladd and was accepted. Once officials discovered she was a woman they were not pleased. Only after intervention by a world-class mathematician was she admitted, but with restrictions that basically made her less than a fully-matriculated student.

Ladd completed all the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in 1882 but the University would not grant her the degree because of her gender. It was not until 1926, as part of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Johns Hopkins, that the University corrected the 1882 decision and awarded Christine Ladd-Franklin the doctorate she had earned 44 years earlier. She was 78 years old.

Shortly after her graduate studies, Ladd faced what she termed “the cruel choice.” She wanted to pursue an academic career as a college professor, but she was also in love with Fabian Franklin, a mathematician. In those times, full-time formal faculty status was seldom granted to married women; thus her cruel choice. She chose her heart and married Franklin, adopting the professional name Christine Ladd-Franklin. (This marriage bias is not limited to college-faculty employment. One of us remembers talking with a student in the mid-1970s about her upcoming job interview with a manufacturing company. She said she planned to remove her engagement ring for the interview. Biases die hard!)

Professionally, Ladd-Franklin went on to develop an influential theory of color vision. In 1893, she joined Mary Calkins as the first women elected to the APA. That year she was also named in American Men of Science. One organization not open to her as a woman was the prestigious Society of Experimentalists. Not only was she ineligible for membership on the basis of her gender, she also was barred from attending meetings when papers were presented. She waged regular “battles” with the Society’s founder, Edward Titchener, over his exclusionary policy.

Mary Calkins (1863-1926) also experienced academic challenges because of her gender. She sought graduate study at Harvard, but the institution did not admit women. Under some pressure from other academicians, the Harvard President gave in a bit and allowed Calkins to sit in on classes, but not as a registered student. She also took classes at the adjoining Harvard Annex, which later became Radcliffe College, a women’s college with strong ties to Harvard.

At Harvard, Calkins actually completed all course work and her doctoral dissertation, which was published and recognized as ground-breaking in the field of verbal learning. The Department of Philosophy and Psychology said her work was sufficient to be awarded the Ph.D. degree, and they recommended this action to the University. The University President, however, supported by the Board, identified Calkins as a “guest” and refused to grant her the doctorate, solely on the basis of gender. Harvard Professor William James, generally considered the father of modern American psychology, was astounded, noting that Calkins’ doctoral examination and dissertation were brilliant.

In 1902, Radcliffe College offered to grant the Ph.D. to Calkins and three other women who had completed their studies at Harvard. Calkins alone refused. In a demonstration of character and integrity, she refused to justify a situation that occurred because of discrimination made solely on the basis of gender.

In her autobiography Calkins related other instances of gender discrimination she experienced while completing her studies. She did so without bitterness, however, and expressed her gratitude to the many men who were supportive, collegial, and friendly toward her, and who helped make her accomplishments possible.

Margaret Floy Washburn (1871-1939) did not have the level of difficulties with colleges that plagued Ladd-Franklin and Calkins, probably due to different circumstances and different choices she made with respect to where she pursued her advanced study in psychology. Washburn earned her doctorate in psychology from Vassar College in 1894, and became the first woman to receive a doctorate in psychology. She was elected to membership in the APA, joining Ladd-Franklin and Calkins who had been elected the previous year. After Titchener’s death in 1927 (yes, the same Titchener who waged battle with Ladd-Franklin over membership in The Society of Experimentalists), Washburn and June Etta Downey became the first women elected to that society. In 1921, Washburn was elected the 30th President of the American Psychological Association, and in 1932 she was the first woman psychologist and the second woman to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Washburn’s contribution to the new discipline of American psychology was substantial. In 1908 she published The Animal Mind, generally accepted as the first textbook on Comparative Psychology, and for 25 years the standard text in that area.

What coping lessons can we take from these abbreviated biographies of Ladd-Franklin, Calkins, and Washburn? The answers are probably obvious to readers of this blog, but good lessons are always worth repeating:

You will never improve if you avoid challenges.

Never fear hard work. Most worthwhile things require it.

Actions trump thinking.

Pursue those actions that bring you a sense of satisfaction

and productivity

Learn from your failures.

Do not be defined by your fears.

Live by your personal rules with integrity and honor.

Finally, do not define yourself, and do not let others define you, by circumstances of nature like gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Instead, define yourself by your actions, accomplishments, and values. In the final analysis, Ladd-Franklin, Calkins, and Washburn were judged by most of their colleagues and peers by the quality of their work as psychologists, researchers, and teachers who happened to be women; they were not judged as women who happened to be psychologists.

 

SOME TIPS FOR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

An acquaintance was recently bemoaning the fact that her gym would soon see hordes of “resolutions nuts” descending upon her and other gym regulars. “These jokers don’t know the first thing about gym etiquette and they’re just a royal pain. The only good thing is that by the end of February most of them will be gone. They dump those resolutions in a hurry.”

Bingo! Resolutions don’t last. That just about says it all. The fact is, these resolutions are a lousy way to cope with things bothering you, whether it’s being too heavy, smoking, lack of exercise, being inattentive to family, etc., etc., etc.

Why don’t resolutions work? For one thing, the very fact that you pick a specific date to begin your transformation into a better person shows that you are procrastinating, and are really not motivated. Picking that date is so artificial, and just means you’re kicking the can down the road.

For another thing, many folks use resolutions to motivate them. Well, that’s just putting the cart before the horse. Resolutions must be the result of motivation to do something, not the catalyst for generating motivation.

Also, resolutions are often unrealistic. You make grandiose, unattainable resolutions (“be able to run a marathon by Spring,” “lose 30 lbs by February,”) and you also believe that you’re going to be involved in reinventing yourself, creating a new you. That’s unrealistic thinking.

To have any chance of success, a resolution must involve specific goals involving specific actions: “I will eat a piece of fruit, an apple or a pear, for lunch instead of a sandwich. I will do a workout at the gym 3 days a week. I will walk my neighborhood (or my treadmill) for 45 minutes every day. Every Monday I will weigh less than, or at least the same as, the previous Monday.”

If you want to change something about yourself, don’t wait until some future date to begin; start now. Keep a daily record of relevant actions and outcomes; there are tremendous intrinsic rewards in seeing yourself perform your required activities and in seeing progress. There’s a sense of personal empowerment that spurs you on!

In a previous blog (7.16.16) we discussed some things that are relevant to increasing success when it comes to resolutions. Remember that there is a huge disconnect between “will” and “want.” You may indeed “want” to change your behavior, but you can’t quite muster the “will” to make a step towards that new end. Smoking, weight loss, exercise, and getting in shape all fit this distinction quite well. You may “want” to be able to fit in your clothes better, but you also “want” to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. There is a real push (get off your duff!) vs. pull (I need to take it easy!) inside you, and unfortunately the pull (in this case Netflix) generally wins. So how do you move from focusing on the push rather than the pull?

Connect your New Year’s resolution to a specific motivator and place it squarely in front of you. “Warm weather will be here soon and I want to be able to look decent at the pool”; “That wedding I’m in is only a few weeks away and I need to look sharp”; “The boss invited me to join in a jog last week and I nearly died of exhaustion. That’s no way to get a promotion. I have to be able to keep up.”

Also, your resolution must involve your values as well as your actions. You may need to confront values-oriented thinking that is inconsistent with your actions: You put off investigating diets (an action) that may work for you even though you say, “I care about my health” (your value); you put off joining a gym (an action) even though you say, “I want to get in shape” (your value); you put off spending more time with your kids and spouse (an action), even though you say, “I value family” (your value); you put off signing up for a course at the local community college (an action), even though you say, “I want to become more educated” (your value).

Use a resolution to connect your actions and your values. Identify those things that you really value, the things that are important to you. Then resolve to coordinate those things you value with specific actions that are compatible with those values. Once you identify constructive actions and begin engaging in them, they will tend to become a part of your routine; they will become automatic and it won’t take much effort to maintain them, making your resolutions successful. And definitely resolve not to wait until January 1st to put them into action!