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Turning Resolutions into Successful Habits

The main purpose of a New Year’s resolution or self-improvement goal should be to seek progress, not perfection.

Goals and developing strategies to achieve those goals are important because they “help to break down problem areas into bits that are possible to achieve so that people can build on success,” says Sr. Peggy Crowley, SHCJ, LCSW-C, a member of the continuing care staff at Saint Luke Institute.

Many people – including priests, religious and lay leaders – use the new year as an opportunity to make resolutions or set goals for self improvement. It is not uncommon to struggle to maintain those resolutions by February or March.

The first step to maintaining a resolution is to identify what undesirable habit needs to be changed. Then a person should set a goal that is concrete and realistic.

“If you raise the bar too high or your expectation is too idealistic, you’re bound to be disappointed and even resentful,” Sr. Peggy says.

It is helpful if the main goal for changing a particular habit is broken down into a series of smaller goals. As each modest goal is achieved, it gives a sense of hope and momentum for a long-term change instead of disappointment at a lack of instant transformation.

The process of acquiring a positive new habit takes time, effort and patience. Change does not happen immediately, and too great a focus on seeking perfection in challenging areas of our lives can lead to greater stumbles.

“We seek to focus on ways to continue to grow instead of being in a morass of self-defeating behaviors,” she says, noting that lessons from 12-step programs can offer inspiration for people setting all types of goals.

Resolutions are more likely to succeed if a person has a support team. Those team members may include a spiritual director, mentor, therapist, fellow members of a religious community or trusted friends.

“You cannot do it alone,” she notes. “Often people experience personal problems and they keep it to themselves and it becomes a form of isolation.”

Support team members should be well balanced, safe and willing to offer constructive feedback.

Once an unwanted habit is broken and a desirable new habit is adopted, people often find that their outlook on life as a whole becomes more positive.

“If you keep trying to work to change your behavior, the ripple effect of that is that you actually change the way you think about your habit, your mood and even yourself,” says Sr. Peggy.