Counseling Center: Let’s Talk About… Effective Change

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Happy New Year. It is now 2017 and you have most likely been asked, “what is your New Year’s resolution?” Did you make one? This is the time of year when people often feel they can start fresh to create change in their lives. While the new year is a natural starting point, you can begin change at any moment you designate; it may be marked by a new month, a new week, a new day or a new hour. Whether you are working on a New Year’s resolution or just want to make a change in your life, here are a few tips for making that change effective.
Get support. It can be helpful to talk it over with a friend or another important person in your life. They can help you brainstorm and provide support along your journey. They do not have to be your babysitter or ask you about it every single time they see you. The very act of saying it out loud to another person helps make it more real, plus having someone to talk to about your progress and challenges can be helpful. Support can also come in the form of the Tutoring and Learning Center, a professor’s office hours or a consultation at the counseling center. Get detailed. Or as I like to say “chunk it out.”
Break your tasks down into manageable chunks that can be accomplished within your time frame. Be specific. You might choose a pre-set date, such as the end of the semester or the end of the calendar year, or you might focus on making a particular incremental change. For example, you want to improve your grades. Does that mean getting straight A’s this semester or a particular grade point average by graduation? Does it mean completing all of your assignments on time? Does it mean having someone else proof each paper before you turn it in? In any case, figuring out the details of how, where, when and with whom you are making your change, will make for the most effective change. Choose a doable goal within a realistic timeframe. Is it manageable to go from a C average to an A average this semester? What would it take to do that?
Do you have the time and energy to devote to that? Is it your number one priority? What else will fall down on the priority list and is that okay with you? Realistically evaluate whether what you set out to do is manageable for you in your life at this time. For example, exercising every day for an hour may not be realistic when you’re attending class, working, interning, presiding over club meetings, plus sleeping and eating, not to mention connecting with friends and having some time without any obligations.
One helpful way to visualize how you spend your time is to complete an hour-by-hour schedule for a typical week. In this way you can see where you have time and whether you have time. The schedule is not meant to be a rigid timekeeper but more of a gentle guide and reminder. Be sure to include time for eating, sleeping, transportation and household tasks. For example, maybe you want to spend more time with friends. A realistic timeframe for this may not be an outing every day but an outing once or twice a week with friends. Another option is to intentionally include friends in one meal time a day or one exercise time each week. Or maybe you want to make more friends. This is a hard goal to put on a timeline because it is so particular to each person involved. Making a friend takes time. The part that is in your control is putting yourself into social situations, talking to others and extending invitations. Tap into your motivation. Articulate why this change is important to you.
Tell as many people as possible. Draw it out. Make a collage of it. Write it out. Map it out. Dance it out. Sculpt it out. Post it on your bathroom mirror. Stay in touch with that motivation. And when you enact your change, celebrate it and share it. Practice self-compassion. None of us are perfect. None of us live up to our values and goals 100 percent of the time.  When you do not extend that invitation to a new friend, rather than berating yourself, express understanding and gentleness with your own fear of rejection. Know that at some point you may need to revise your plan as you gather more information and experience. It can also help to reconnect with your motivation and support system regularly.

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