In This Issue:
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
Happy New Year from our Behavioral Health & Wellness Program team!
As a person in constant development, when I contemplate the possibilities that lie in this new year ahead of me, I’d like to take the opportunity to review where I am at and who I would like to be. The technological definition of “resolution” is an apt metaphor—which is to bring an image into greater sharpness and clarity. With this definition in mind, I am resolute in my renewed commitment to awareness and bringing my desired self, my imago, into greater focus.
While I have many things to reflect upon from last year, in order to move towards who I know I can be, I want to avoid getting stuck in the “why” of past decisions and behaviors. It’s more than just changing a behavior. It involves an evolution in the way I think and the emotions I am willing to acknowledge.
My colleagues’ following insights are a wonderful reminder that we are all acting on this planet together with the privilege to support each other’s attempts to clarify a healthy and whole life. So, take a break from the day—you deserve it—and read on.
Registration is open for several of our 2019 trainings!
Motivational Interviewing for Behavior Change – Level I: March 4 – 5, 2019
Rocky Mountain Tobacco Treatment Specialist Training Program: May 13 – 16, 2019
Motivational Interviewing for Behavior Change – Level II: July 29 – 30, 2019
Wellness in Practice
CINDY MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
With each transition, comes a new opportunity. A chance to do and see things differently. An opportunity to be transformed. Transitions come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s ringing in a new year, traveling to a place yet unknown, or arriving home from a day of work, we have the chance to set a new goal or intention for the next segment of our lives, no matter how long or short it may be.
In the spirit of appreciation for the power of transitions, I’d like to set my intention for 2019. My intention is to be more intentional. Let me explain. As we move through our lives, we develop habits—patterns of being, thinking, and doing that ease our movement through the world. These grow out of our learning about what is most efficient or effective, saving us time and energy. Or they are simply automatic responses we’ve repeated many times before. While these habits can bring feelings of comfort and ease, they also bring rigidity and lack of awareness and present a barrier to positive growth and change. We become fixed in a structure with few novel and interesting experiences. While we feel safe as we engage in the familiar and known, there is little room for what we really want, which are novel opportunities—encounters with the potential to spark something new in us. Something to help us to tap into the magic of our everyday experience.
At the grocery store the other day, I found myself automatically preparing my credit card payment while simultaneously getting out the cash with which I meant to pay. When I handed over a cash payment, I was faced with a confused cashier who was being kind by asking me, “Do you want to split the payment?” Sheepishly, I laughed and admitted that I was functioning on autopilot. As I walked away from the interaction, shaking my head and internally reprimanding myself, I also took the opportunity to appreciate the gentle reminder from the universe that I don’t want to live my life automatically. I want to stretch myself. I want to be open to new prospects, new creations.
So, it is from this place that I set my resolution of being more intentional. Of course, I know that it will grow and change throughout the year and bring with it the unexpected and unknown. I look forward to these remarkable experiences and so much more.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Director
New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. True, people have a tendency to embark on unrealistic personal overhauls this time of year. We often approach February with a sense that we have somehow failed or might fail to live up to the goals or lifestyle changes we made for ourselves. (Roughly one in three people who make New Year’s resolutions will have already abandoned them by February 1st.) Combined with general winter weariness, this unnecessary self-criticism can temporarily sap the enthusiasm from even the most optimistic among us.
But focusing on failure means that we are thinking about resolutions the wrong way. Successful entrepreneurs, leaders, and psychologists remind us that failure is an inevitable and essential part of life. For both children and adults, experiencing failure teaches important life skills such as humility, commitment, patience, determination, decision making, and problem solving. Reframing failure in these ways is often a key feature of clinical strategies designed to support healthy behavior change. It is no coincidence that one of the biggest predictors of successful smoking cessation is having tried (and failed) to quit smoking in the past.
Keeping our resolutions once we’ve made them is undoubtedly important, but for many people, making them in the first place marks an even more pivotal shift. To make a resolution (big or small) is to courageously stare down what can be a paralyzing fear of failure. It is to have an intention to embrace change in ways that positively impact oneself, others, or the world. To try something, even if the benefits are only temporary or never realized at all. This intentionality is a life-affirming reminder of what it is that makes us human – a never ending desire to do better, to creatively improve our own and others’ lives, and to live in accordance with our values.
DEREK NOLAND, M.P.H., Community Liaison
We checked the temperature one last time before exiting the car, as if there were some chance that a miracle had occurred over the last few minutes…nope, not today. It was nearly noon on New Year’s Day, and the temperature was holding steady at 11 degrees. As the moment in which I would run into the hollowed-out section of the iced-over Boulder Reservoir drew near, I began to wonder if I could really go through with the plunge. There was just one problem: quitting simply wasn’t an option. My wife and I were both committed, and what’s more, were viewing the process as a symbolic or spiritual cleanse of 2018, and as a springboard to starting 2019 on a fresh path.
We’re certainly not alone. Every year millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but by the time February rolls around, many people have already abandoned their intentions. What is it about these declarations that make them so hard to uphold? Perhaps the core of the problem is that making an all-or-nothing resolution might not be the best way to institute sustained, long-term change. Maybe it’s better to frame our resolutions as works-in-progress and instead pledge to steadily work toward our goals over the course of the year.
If by the time you’re reading this article you’ve already abandoned or even forgotten about your New Year’s resolutions, I would encourage you to give them another thought. What was it that inspired you to create these goals in the first place? Moreover, if you have slipped in your pledge, have you thought about the progress you made in the interim? Viewing the world in black-and-white terms makes sense in some situations, but I would argue that when it comes to behavior change—the crux of most resolutions—we should appreciate the many shades of gray that represent incremental change. It’s a point we routinely convey in our tobacco trainings at the Behavioral Health & Wellness Program—that there’s an important distinction between a lapse and a relapse to tobacco use after a period of abstinence. While the former may constitute a setback, it need not spiral into the latter.
Mentally framing a lapse (whether in efforts to quit tobacco or to maintain New Year’s resolutions) as a temporary slip-up, as opposed to an abject failure, helps many people to prevent a complete relapse. So, if you’ve strayed from your resolutions over the last couple weeks or find yourself in that situation in the months to come, take a step back and recognize what you’ve accomplished. In all honestly, I’ve already experienced some of my own slip-ups in striving to maintain my New Year’s resolutions. Yet I’ve also made a lot of progress and experienced a lot of success in making positive improvements, and that’s what I intend to focus on as a source of motivation to keep moving forward. And I invite you to do the same. Remember your motivations for making your New Year’s resolutions, recognize the successes you’ve had in the interim, and keep striving for change—even if you experience setbacks along the way.
Made to Move
JIM PAVLIK, M.A., Program & Policy Analyst
Habits are habits and they are hard to change. According U.S. News & World Report, by mid-February 80% of resolutions will already be abandoned. As it turns out, “New year, new me” alone doesn’t have the power to sustain true change. I’m not perfect, and many of my self-improvement efforts fall by the wayside just like everyone else’s. But as I’ve gotten older, I fail at behavior change less often than I used to. Here are two things that help me help myself.
While I’m partial to the Importance, Readiness, and Confidence rulers from Motivational Interviewing, a more succinct way to find barriers to forming new habits can be found in this 2015 article from Austin Frakt. Simply ask yourself, “Why am I not doing this already?” Following Frakt’s advice, if the reasons you list are outside your control, you may have to admit to yourself this isn’t a good time for that goal. Look for barriers you can conceivably overcome, then devise a way to do that.
Frakt’s next step is to look for your emotional motivator. This is important, but I defer to him for that point. For me the second step is to recognize that everything you do all day long has a rationale, a purpose. You don’t eradicate a behavior, you have to replace it—and to do that, you have to know why you do it. If you decide to start getting the CDC-recommended minimum of exercise each day, that 30-minutes is going to replace some other activity that you engage in right now.
You may be thinking to yourself, “No, I simply don’t need an extra hour of TV.” I’d suggest that you are getting some, perhaps hidden, benefit from that activity—stress relief, decompression, processing time, etc. It is true it’s probably less valuable than the benefits of adding a PiYo class to your day, but that TV viewing is providing something. And, without discovering what that is and making sure you get it somewhere else, you’ll be back to watching another episode of Arrow before you’ve mastered the Beast Kick Through or the PiYo Cross.