Setting realistic goals for 2015

by Jim Creenan

While we are great at setting goals, we are even more skilled at creating exceptions based on situations. Therefore, the real impact of a New Year’s resolution might escape us.

In fact, by the time you read this, you will probably have already eaten that forbidden piece of chocolate or pizza. You can rationalize your decision by saying “but it didn’t count because (you can fill in the blank).”

Assuming that is the case, why not set a different type of goal this year?  

I have a modest suggestion for us in 2015. Instead of creating an unrealistic promise to abstain from the things you like, create more practical objectives.

The American Psychological Association suggests these tips for lasting lifestyle changes:

  • Make a plan that will stick. Your plan is a map that will guide you on this journey of change. You can even think of it as an adventure. When making your plan, be specific. Want to exercise more? Detail the time of day when you can take walks and how long you will walk. Write everything down and ask yourself if you are confident that these activities and goals are realistic for you. If not, start with smaller steps. Post your plan where you will most often see it as a reminder.
  • Start small. After you have identified realistic short-term and long-term goals, break down your goals into small, manageable steps that are specifically defined and can be measured. Is your long-term goal to lose 20 pounds within the next five months? A good weekly goal would be to lose one pound a week. If you would like to eat healthier, consider as a goal for the week replacing dessert with a healthier option, like fruit or yogurt. At the end of the week, you will feel successful knowing you met your goal.
  • Change one behavior at a time. Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time, so replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Many people run into problems when they try to change too much too fast. To improve your success, focus on one goal or change at a time. As new healthy behaviors become a habit, try to add another goal that works toward the overall change.
  • Involve a buddy. Whether it is a friend, co-worker or family member, having someone else on your journey will keep you motivated and accountable. Perhaps it can be someone who will go to the gym with you or someone who is also trying to stop smoking. Talk about what you are doing. Consider joining a support group. Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes the work easier and the mission less intimidating.
  • Ask for support. Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and commitment. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking help from a psychologist. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body, as well as the factors that promote behavioral change. Asking for help does not mean a lifetime of therapy. Even just a few sessions can help you examine and set attainable goals or address the emotional issues that may be getting in your way.

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For many lawyers, this just will not work. Start small? Ask for help? Those concepts were drilled out of us in law school. Right?

Realistically, what can we do? I suggest the following:

  • Be more courteous to all those you encounter. Be polite to the people at the City-County Building who operate the metal detectors. Say “hello” and ask how they are. This will reduce your stress level.
  • Be on time. The saying goes that if you are not 10 minutes early, then you are late. This will also reduce your stress level.
  • Be present. When you are at the meeting, hockey game or lunch table, put the phone down and connect with the people you are there to see.
  • Be a mentor. If you know how to do something well, then take the time to explain this to someone else.
  • Think before you speak. My mother preached this one and it has worked well so far.
  • Follow the Golden Rule. 

After you reflect on this, write down your resolution and keep it in a place where you can see it each day. Work on it each day. By the time the Bench-Bar Conference arrives, you will be glad you did.