Resolutions, anyone?

 What better time for a fresh start than the New Year, right?  Personally,  I go back and forth on that one (too much pressure …. too trendy …. too tempted by that last piece of pie in the fridge….), but hopefully, you’re more motivated.

In fact, nearly half of American adults make formal New Years resolutions annually — and about 1 in 5 succeed. If you consider there are about 217 million people over 18 in the U.S., that means 21 million can expect to achieve their goals.

What’s their secret?  I think this CNN story does a good job in laying out the how-to’s for making workable resolutions without setting yourself up for failure.  I particularly like the recommendation to find a “resolution buddy” (remember, accountability and support are critical) and the emphasis on examining some of the deeper issues that may be getting you stuck.

If you’re an ex-offender trying to turn your life around, you might have caught my earlier goal-setting tips for people who hate to plan.  In addition, here  are some other suggestions for getting  a fresh start in 2010.

1. Set limits.  It’s tempting to draw up a list of everything you’d like to change to completely tranform your life.  We’d all like to snap our fingers and be thinner, richer and happier, not to mention better parents, sons and daughters who are living rewarding and productive lives. Forever. But that’s unlikely to happen.  If you’d like to write down  all these hopes for inspiration, that’s great, but it’s not a workable list of resolutions.  A better approach is to focus on one or two things — three, at the absolute most, that you can break down into simple measureable steps. Otherwise you’re just engaging in unrealistic and grandiose thinking.  For someone with a criminal past that spells danger, and ultimately disappointment when things don’t change quickly and easily. 

2. Plan for slip-ups.  This isn’t self-defeatng, it’s just smart.  In order to change the way you do things, you have to change your thinking.  That means resisting the fanciful idea that everything is under your control and you can instantly get what you want.  Afterall, this is often the attitude that got you in trouble to begin with.  Instead, you need to anticipate not only the obstacles you might face in trying to reach your goals, but your likely reaction to them and what strategies might help you ge back on track.  

A document like this change plan worksheet can be a useful way of doing this.  Note, there’s room here to write down both  the reasons you want to change and the likely outcomes if you don’t.  For example, say your goal is finding a job.  In addition to meeting the conditions of your probation, another reason you probably want to work is to support yourself. You also know that when you’re not doing something productive you become depressed and you risk returning to old behaviors.  Under likely outcomes if you don’t succeed?  Re-offending and ending up back in jail.  If you have this all spelled out, you can come back to it when you find yourself wavering to remind yourself why you need to change.

 3.  Be honest with yourself.  This part is tricky.  You don’t want to beat yourself up when you slip.  At the same time you have to take care that you’re honest with yourself about your progress. NO exceptions.   If you’re giving up drinking and you decide to have a beer one afternoon, you have slipped up and are no longer working toward your goals.  You need to acknowledge this, as excusing it can cause you to abandon all efforts to be responsible. In his seminal work, “Inside the Criminal Mind,” psychiatrist Stanton Samenow described how his colleague, the late Samuel Yochelson used to tell the ex-offenders he worked with that they had to approach everything in their life with total integrity.  “No lie is too small,” Yochelson was fond of saying.  He also believed that fear and guilt were not only effective but necessary motivators for change.

4.   But allow go-backs.  Everyone’s got  that one regret.  Someone offered a helping hand when you first got out, but you were too busy dealing with family issues to take them up on it.  Or you were feeling bad on the day a friend scheduled an interview and you didn’t show up.  Or you didn’t take advantage of re-entry assistance right away and now you’re afraid it’s too late to ask for it.  While it’s true that people are most eager to help you at the beginning and you shouldn’t let them down, don’t be afraid to go back and ask for a second chance. It is a new year, afterall.   Just be honest about why.  That you weren’t focused when you got out, or that you were afraid you didn’t have enough experience so you backed out of the interview.  True, you may not get another chance, but at least you’ve followed up and been accountable for your actions.  And in the best case, it might not be too late.  People may be impressed with your truthfulness and your humility. Jason Hunter, a caseworker with the Virginia Department of Rehabilitation says he wished more of his clients would follow-up.  “If they’d just put in the effort, they’d be surprised at how much we’re willing to help them,” he says.

5.  Believe in yourself.  It’s a trite, but it must be said.  You’ve got to believe in yourself or no one will. And I’m not talking about the belief in the sense that you have a huge ego and an even bigger sense of entitlement.  Rather I mean that quiet, steady belief that if you pursue your goals, step by individual step, you can achieve them.  It may take awhile, probably longer than you like, but you  can change if you’re commit yourself and follow-thru.

I think this quote sums it up nicely:

“A New Year isn’t just a blank canvas that you throw all your hopes and happiness at, only to trash it later when the picture didn’t come out as expected. A New Year is 52-week job, that will reward those who to work at making those hopes and happiness a reality each and every day.”

Here’s wishing you a productive and successful 2010!

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