By Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D.

Each year one of America's finest traditions is the New Years Resolution. Millions of us commit to resolving personal problems and every year most of us fail to keep these personal commitments. The idea is a good one: assess our life, contemplate what we want to modify during the next twelve months, and then commit to that change. What can we do to enhance the probability of successfully meeting our resolutions? While the answers to these questions are filled with complexity, I will offer a few tips to assist you.

As with most valuable things, rewarding personal change comes hard. The behaviors, feelings, and thoughts we most want to change may have become automatic. Whether these undesirable parts of ourselves are physical behaviors, thoughts (e.g. negative self talk) or feelings, they are likely to have been learned in childhood and are how we are accustomed to being.

To change even a small part of ourselves is to change something major in our lives. This sort of change does not come easy and people often find that when it comes right down to it, they experience resistance to the very change they seek. This is true both with and without professional assistance.

While the process of personal change may require professional assistance, the keys to specific behavioral change are twofold: 1)to understand the issues you face from an historical view and then 2) to set forth reasonable and attainable goals in the process of change. The first step, the look into your past, is critical as it lessens the resistance to change.

The second phase (the actual change) is best executed after assessing what is involved. This includes perceptions and feelings about the change, as well as the knowledge of what is actually involved in making the change, from behavioral, emotional and environmental perspectives.

Let's use the classic New Years Resolution of quitting smoking as an example. You decide you are finally going to give up the habit; this time you are really going to do it! Taking a look over your historical shoulder, we find that both of your parents smoked and, at a young age, you witnessed your mother make an apparent emotional and behavioral link between smoking and her trying to soothe her rattled nerves. We also find that when you first asked about smoking (at about age 5) you were told that you couldn't smoke until you were grown up. Both of these childhood events, as well as countless others, set the stage for you to value smoking and associate it with being an adult. In addition, we have present day associations such as having a cigarette with coffee in the morning or after a meal to contend with. As we assess these sorts of environmental factors, we design a program to gradually change the associations between the unwanted behavior and daily routines.

As you begin 1993 and ask yourself what in your life you want to change, select carefully, assess your past (and how it played a part in the development of your target behavior), and design a plan for successful and permanent modification. If you can't do it on your own, seek the help of a qualified professional.