As we head into the new year, many of us imagine making positive changes to our lives: "This year I'm going to lose weight, exercise more, go back to school, be a better partner, and practice piano every day." A fresh new year gives us a reset point that psychologically draws us into thinking about positive changes we want to make in our lives. The problem is that over 32% of new year's resolution-makers can't establish a routine or sustain the effort required to reach their goal (according to last year's Marist Poll).
Other data from the fitness app Strava suggests that many more of us give up on resolutions and we do so very quickly: January 19 is the date that Strava users are most likely to abandon their lofty aims. If most of us want to see positive change in 2022, how can we stick to it and make it happen?
We asked the Arbour therapists to share how they've been able to make a positive change happen in their lives and here's what they said:
"Upon reflection, I have to say that the most substantial and lasting positive changes I’ve made in my life have come at the "prompting of an invitation” by someone I respect and trust. It makes me think how valuable it is to have someone reflect that they see potential in you and believe you can do it. Almost twenty-five years ago, after freshly graduating with my master's degree in psychology and very green in the field of counselling, I got together for lunch with David Norton, a seasoned therapist from my community whom I respected and admired. My goal at that lunch was to garner a few tips and gather a couple of referrals to some good organizations to apply for work as a budding therapist. Instead, he invited me to join his own private group practice, and I never looked back.
Not only do we make positive change when we’re invited by others who believe in us, but we also make positive change when we take risks to invite others to contribute to our worlds...
At first glance, it may seem a little disempowering to notice that my positive change came only after someone outside me invited me to a challenge and opportunity, but I find myself reflecting on the relational nature of positive change—the best growth happens in community. Since that invitation from David many years ago, I have thanked him for the impact of his invitation, and he reminded me that I was not the only one changed by that interaction…he was as well. He took a risk to make the invitation and was positively impacted in the process. And so, since then maybe I’m just a little more awake to ways in which I can offer my invitation to others around me to envision with them ways I see them as contributors. Not only do we make positive change when we’re invited by others who believe in us, but we also make positive change when we take risks to invite others to contribute to our worlds (with open hands and hearts to their uniqueness and without our control)."
"So... what has enabled me to make a positive change in my life? We’ve all had the experience of deciding to change something, trying it out for a while, and slipping back! And that’s okay, incidentally. I see positive change as a long slow journey in the same direction—not about perfection. Our lives come to us with their own unique rhythm of ups and downs. Over time, it’s a journey that engages not just the mind, but the body, and the spirit (or the heart). To help make the change stick, we situate ourselves in the context of a supportive community and mutual relationships of interdependence. A wise Chinese sage famously said, ‘If you get tired, learn to rest. Not quit.’
Enough philosophy! How about a practical example? For quite a long time, I had wanted to shift to more of a plant-based diet. How to make it happen? Here’s what moved me to take action. Three years ago, always curious about the idea of moderate vegetarianism, when a friend invited me to her course on how animals are treated (or mistreated!) in our modern, industrial food system—suddenly, it wasn’t just an intellectual exercise but a passionate concern for the well-being of animals (and the land that they and we depend on) that engaged my heart and began to play out in my lifestyle.
‘If you get tired, learn to rest. Not quit.’
Even though a small gesture, I began to buy local produce (and small amounts of ‘organic’ meat and eggs from animals treated humanely) at a couple of markets I could walk to. I brought the fresh veggies home, washed them right away, chopped and refrigerated them, ready to go. Spending time preparing more plant-based meals became therapeutic – with no sense of ‘wasting time.’ Much more can be said. But it’s become a long slow journey in the same direction that began in my mind, came from my heart, and is being acted out in my local community and surrounding areas. It’s about supporting shopkeepers and farmers who are concerned about local, ethically produced food, respectful of animals and the land (as best as I can determine)."
"There have been moments in my life where large or significant changes happen, but change mostly comes for me in small increments and tiny shifts. I’ve come to believe that transformation happens by paying attention and sitting with the tension in our thoughts and emotions and giving them space. This doesn’t always happen right away and needs time.
One place this occurs for me is when I see my spiritual director. It is often in that one-hour session that I can welcome tensions or emotions that are bothering me, stuck within me, or blocking my true self. Together we hold it, without judgement and wait to see the shift that is needed. At times, the naming of emotions, the validating of my feelings, and holding space for them with compassion—without trying to fix them—allow me to release or move toward them.
I am learning that sometimes external miracles or texts from a friend or experiences allow for the internal tensions or emotions to change, but I cannot always control this. However, when I feel the angst within and I create rituals for pausing, recognizing, holding space, and meeting it with love, it almost always shifts. I believe this gentle, compassionate love changes us."
...when I feel the angst within and I create rituals for pausing, recognizing, holding space, and meeting it with love, it almost always shifts.
One of the things that has enabled me to make a positive change in my life is the support of family. Whenever I have set out to accomplish a goal I have always had many people in my corner cheering me on. Whether it has been the goal of running a marathon, finishing a master's degree, or entering into full-time counselling, I couldn't have accomplished them without my family's support.
When we set out to make positive change happen in our lives I think it's important to think about the community of support that we have in our corner. Sometimes we might underestimate how many people would actually cheer us on if we told them about our goals. But when we share with supportive friends, family, or co-workers, the positive change we want to work towards, they can have a tremendous impact on our motivation.
...positive change happens when we get honest about our goals and invite others to help us realize them.
I recognize that we don't all have supportive families but most people have someone that will support and encourage them. Sometimes we get in our own way by thinking we can do it on our own or assuming that no one cares about our goals. We don't get the support we need because we don't ask for it! I think positive change happens when we get honest about our goals and invite others to help us realize them."
At Arbour, we believe that supportive relationships are a key to moving toward positive change in our lives. If there is a change you want to make in 2022 we would love to help support you and see you realize your goals.