Tiny steps

Tiny steps

Write down small achievements to stay on track with meeting your goals 

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 01/02/2014

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Dear Patti,
My New Year’s resolution is different than my friends. Rather than self-focused objectives such as losing weight, stop drinking/smoking, get fit, get organized or get out of debt, I want to stop allowing people to push me around. My goal is complicated because it’s changing something deeply interwoven in my personality since childhood and seems almost impossible to achieve. Instead of improving me, I want to focus on how I am with others. I hope this doesn’t mean my resolution is indicative of me concentrating on others instead of myself. 

Rather than blame others for being selfish and feeling sorry for myself, I’m trying to see whether there are recurring patterns in my relationships. I have three siblings but I’m the only one that takes care of our mother. My boss, my husband and even our neighbors often make me feel picked on and taken advantage of, typically ending up in one-sided relationships. If a relationship starts out where I’m devalued, I don’t put up boundaries or become confrontational. Even when the relationship starts out healthy, I undermine it by dismissing acts of wrongdoing or assuming responsibilities that clearly aren’t my own. I want to make significant changes in 2014 but realize most people don’t stay consistent with their resolutions. 
Any thoughts on being successful at this?
— Natalie

Dear Natalie,
Many New Year’s resolutions are about wanting to change the person and not about changing relationships but, if you look closely, many of these wishes have a partial relationship component. Many Americans want to stop drinking or smoking so as to have a longer, healthier life, but it’s also because they want to grow old with a spouse or live to see their children grow up. That’s healthy. I think your resolution is a good one — not dependent but fueled by healthy self-love and the desire to have worthwhile relationships.

I recommend exploring professional counseling with a knowledgeable, compassionate psychotherapist. By providing a safe place to explore and experience your feelings fully, your therapist will help you identify emotions underlying your self-destructive behavior. Therapy can also help you develop an awareness of situations, people and behaviors that provoke the return of unhealthy reactions. 

Make a list of all the current relationships where you want to accomplish change in 2014. Review your list carefully and narrow it down to five. Pick the five most important relationships and that significant change will support you to feel hopeful, renewed and positive. Now go someplace where you’ll be uninterrupted. Sit quietly, get comfortable, close your eyes, breathe slowly and gently and allow yourself to completely relax. Let all the tension leave your body. Listen to the inner awareness that will guide you in understanding yourself, your sense of purpose and your true nature. Be receptive to what your wise self really knows deep inside and what it’s trying to communicate to you.

Think about what would make you totally happy. If you have a chance to experience these relationships in a way that’s true to who you really are, what would your life look like? If you had a chance to do this relationship all over and experience life together true to how you really want it, what would the relationship look like? When you’re 90 and reflecting on the past, are you going to say with satisfaction, “We had a full, honest, healthy relationship?” Or will you view it with regret, accompanied by the words, “I wasted my life putting time into this relationship?”

Make a list of everything you want to change in the relationship. Write clear, small achievements to keep you on track and give you the confidence to continue. Refuse to indulge in self-neglect and always putting others first. Eliminate the inner voice that’s critical, labeling, belittling or preaching. Substitute negative thoughts with encouraging, healing thoughts of self-love and support. Be gentle and loving toward yourself when you make a mistake. Celebrate your successes with recognition and support. When you slip up and give too much and ask too little, examine how you can rebalance the relationship.

Nothing big gets accomplished overnight. Change of any kind is challenging, but if you persist with small steps and appreciate each personal accomplishment, you can make real progress. Visualize how amazing it will be to have your dreams completed. Resolutions are set in one day, but are implemented with a hundred tiny steps all year long.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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