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Irene Rubaum-Keller Headshot

Just Change One Thing

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It's the end of the year and time to take stock. How was last year for you? Did you make any New Year's resolutions last year? Did you stick to them?

Here is where so many of us get off track and give up. We try and change too many things at once. It is noble, but it tends to cause one to end up failing and then giving up entirely.

This is one of my client's New Year's resolution lists from two years ago. I will call her Maggie.

1) Lose 35 pounds.
2) Get a promotion at work and earn $10,000 more per year.
3) Finish writing my book and get it published.
4) Start doing Pilates three times per week.
5) Be nicer to my boyfriend.
6) Return all emails within one day.
7) Volunteer one day a month at the local animal shelter.

Does her list look anything like yours? All her goals are great and noble but not even Superwoman could do all of that in one year. Plus, some of her goals were not directly within her control. Publishing her book would require a publisher to say yes and getting a promotion would require her boss, and quite possibly her boss's boss, to approve.

So what tends to happen is we just give up. When the weight isn't coming off, we didn't get that promotion, we haven't finished the book and so haven't even approached publishers yet, we have only managed to go to Pilates one day a week, and the animal shelter doesn't need us on the one day we happen to be free, we feel like failures. No matter how much actual progress we have made toward our goals, we still feel like failures and that defeated feeling is not very motivating.

The trick, I have learned, is to focus on one keystone habit. A keystone habit is one that is central to the way you have been operating and once changed will create a chain reaction of change.

Let's use Maggie as an example. For 2013 we worked on her New Year's resolution list together and were able to identify a better way to go. This is where psychotherapy can really come in handy. Someone outside yourself is often able to see things more clearly. You are in the forest but a therapist is outside looking in and can see the trees.

Maggie was in the habit of drinking wine nightly starting around 6 p.m. when she got home from work and ending after two or three glasses about 9 p.m. Instead of working on her book, working out, cooking a low-calorie healthy meal or going out to volunteer she would stay home, relax with the wine and spend the evening on Facebook, Twitter or watching TV. That was her nightly habit.

So we came up with a new list for 2013. Her New Year's resolution list then became this:

1) Give up the nightly wine drinking at home and switch to flavored bubble water instead.

That's it. No other goals. Nothing else to work on, just that one thing. For Maggie that one keystone habit change led to all the other changes she was trying to create. Let me explain.

Maggie was able to accomplish her one resolution. It wasn't easy at first, she had a couple of setbacks where she went back to the wine, but for the most part she was able to do it.

We estimated that she was taking in about 350 calories a day in wine. As I write this, a year later, she is now down thirty five pounds. She has reached her weight loss goal and she looks and feels great. Just by changing that one thing.

Giving up the wine also led her to realize that her evening time could be useful. Of course she needed time to unwind after work, but working on her book was a nice way for her to do that. So she put time in there and is almost ready to submit her manuscript to publishers. At the beginning of the year she had only written 2,000 words. Now she has 52,000.

Since she was now more awake and aware in the evenings she didn't feel like staying home every night and so she went to volunteer, one night a week, at the local animal shelter. She found this very rewarding, and she got good material for her book. She also added in one more session of Pilates and loved that.

So you can see how changing that one keystone habit led to a lot of positive change for Maggie. For some of my clients changing a keystone habit involves adding something in that is not presently there. Maggie needed to give something up, some need to start doing something new they have been meaning to. Like exercising. In that case your New Year's Resolution list might look like this:

1) Walk three times a week at least once around the block.

See if you can identify that one keystone habit you would either like to change or add in to your life. That one thing that will lead to lots of other positive changes and will point you in the direction you want to go. Make sure it's a goal you can accomplish. Please share your one thing with us.

Happy, Happy New Year. Please keep us posted on your progress and let's support each other on our paths of growth and self discovery.