As the new year approaches, many people start thinking about making resolutions. The practice of setting resolutions actually dates back 4000 years. During a massive 12-day religious festival, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. The ancient Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
With thousands of years of practice, you’d think we’d be better at achieving resolutions. The reality is, while 45% of people make resolutions only 8% of them achieve them, with 80% of resolutions “failing” by the second week of February. Why set yourself up to feel bad in five weeks or less? A more effective practice, taken from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, would be to set values-based goals.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of research-supported therapy that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means connecting to the present moment fully and changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values. Many of the groups offered at Chrysalis are based in ACT.
According to ACT, the first step, before any goal setting is to clarify what value(s) is (are) underlying your goals. Studies have compared goal setting alone, versus goal setting plus values clarification, and found that those who identified their values actually performed better.
Once you have selected values that are important to you, make sure you set a SMART goal. There are different versions of this acronym, but in the iteration used in The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris (a leading expert in ACT therapy), SMART stands for:
•Specific: specify the actions you will take, when and where you will do so, and who or what is involved.
•Meaningful: The goal should be personally meaningful to you. If it is genuinely guided by your values, as opposed to following a rigid rule, or trying to please others, or trying to avoid some pain, then it will be meaningful. If it lacks a sense of meaning or purpose, check in and see if it is really guided by your values.
•Adaptive: Does the goal help you to take your life forwards in a direction that, as far as you can predict, is likely to improve the quality of that life?
•Realistic: The goal should be realistically achievable. Take into account your health, competing demands on your time, financial status, and whether you have the skills to achieve it.
•Time-bound: to increase the specificity of your goal, set a day, date and time for it.
If this is not possible, set as accurate a time limit as you can.
The next step is to write down a graduated series of goals, starting from tiny simple goals that can be achieved right away, to long term goals that may not be achieved for months or years. ACT experts break it down in the following format:
- set an immediate goal-something small, simple, easy, I can do in the next 24 hours
- short term goals- things I can do over the next few days and weeks
- medium term goals- things I can do over the next few weeks and months
- long term goals- things I can do over the next few months and years
Hopefully trying a different approach to a time-honored tradition leads to better success with achieving your goals. Cheers to a happy and healthy 2019, living your life in harmony with your values!
For more information about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:
Kelly Broadwater is a psychologist who uses ACT in her individual therapy and as a group facilitator. She helped develop the Mindful Living group series offered at Chrysalis, which is ACT and DBT informed. Her motto, informed by her values, is “Work hard, play hard”.