Welcome to 2009!

Welcome back to The Beauty Couch and welcome to the New Year! I hope that everyone had a wonderful New Year's Eve that was fun, safe and memorable. Of course, the new year is a time of reflection, planning, and of course, resolutions. I often have cause to reflect upon how it is that people make changes in their lives which is, without a doubt, a very difficult thing to do. If you are thinking about making a resolution or two, there are things that can increase your chance of success. Here are some casual suggestions adapted from basic principles of behaviorally-based therapies:

1. Don't just make one big resolution. Pick a few, enough to make a "hierarchy" of resolutions with some that are easier and definitely achievable. It's hard to keep going on a tough resolutions (something like weight loss, for example) if you don't have some early successes. So resolve to go to the dentist regularly, make the appointments, and experience the reward.

2. Whenever possible, monitor your progress by writing it down. There is so much scientific evidence that people who simply track things show improvement in whatever it is they are hoping to improve. For example, a basic strategy of weight loss is to write down every morsel of food that crosses your lips. This alone will decrease your caloric intake. When trying to save money, write down every cent you spend. It doesn't matter if your goal is to read more, drink less caffeine, get more exercise, call your mother more often, or whatever, write it down as almost anything is amenable to monitoring.

3. Create contingencies. If you are really committed to achieving your resolution(s), enlist the help of anyone you can to set up contingencies for yourself. If you are serious about quitting smoking, find a friend or family member who will keep you honest about it. Similarly, if you really want to get to the gym, set some dates and times with a friend who will meet you there. You are much less likely to bail at the last minute if you know you are letting someone down.

4. Reinforce yourself for progress. All animal behavior is based on positive and negative reinforcement. Harnessing the power of positive reinforcement can be one of the best things you can do to help yourself. Positive reinforcement is something that occurs after a particular behavior, that is subjectively experienced as good and will make it more likely that the behavior will occur again. Ideally this works best if the positive reinforcement comes as close as possible in time to the target behavior.

One of the reasons weight loss is difficult is that the reinforcement comes so long after the behavior happens. You don't get off the treadmill and see a change on the scale. It takes weeks, which makes it hard to keep going. But if you reward yourself after every workout by spending 20 minutes in the sauna or whirlpool, or using a special fluffy bathrobe or expensive cream or anything else that you find pleasurable immediately after the workout, you will be more likely to keep up a regular workout schedule while you wait for the pounds to drop. I once was a member of a gym that had a steam sauna. The only reason I ever worked out was so I could go to the sauna after finishing exercising. I went to that gym more regularly than any other one in my life.

5. Make a point to understand what works and what doesn't work for you. If you have a set back, accept it and move on. Even better, reassess what went well and what could have gone better. How could the setback have been anticipated or avoided? What would you do differently next time? Understand what happened and then try again. Long-term behavior change is difficult and often requires many starts and stops. For example, most people who eventually quit smoking have attempted quitting many times before it finally sticks. Don't wait till January 1, 2010 to start over.



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