Resolving to be realistic

Dec 24, 2007
Counseling Today Feature -- The beginning of a new year provides counselors with the perfect opportunity to partner with clients in setting, achieving meaningful goals

The beginning of a new year provides counselors with the perfect opportunity to partner with clients in setting, achieving meaningful goals

By Angela Kennedy
(Article Courtesy of Counseling Today)

Confetti streamers, noisemakers, gaudy hats, champagne toasts, passionate kisses and "Auld Lang Syne." Ringing in the new year can be a joyful time, but is it really the right time to consider making major changes and setting personal goals?

According to John C. Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton who has conducted three studies on resolutions in recent years, only 46 percent of those who make New Year's resolutions are still sticking to them six months later.

American Counseling Association member Sue Waldman is a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Verona, N.J., and New York City. The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to make goals, she says, because people are naturally inclined to take stock of their life and examine what they truly want to achieve. One of the keys to keeping a New Year's resolution, she adds, is not to go it alone. "It is critical that (an individual) has someone they are accountable to, either a counselor, a partner or a good friend," Waldman says, adding that a lack of belief in oneself, a lack of realistic strategies or a lack of support are the most common culprits in sabotaging the good intentions behind New Year's resolutions.

To help clients achieve their goals for the new year, Waldman has them write down their goals as well as the obstacles that could stand in the way of success. She recommends that counselors help their clients define what she calls S.M.A.R.T. goals

S -- Specific & Simple
M -- Measurable & Meaningful
A -- Achievable
R -- Realistic & Responsible
T -- Time-oriented

After determining goals, she says, "Clarity, desire, focus, action, support, perseverance and commitment are the basic ingredients to goal realization. The future doesn't lie ahead of oneself, waiting to happen. It lies deep inside oneself, waiting to be discovered. It simply begins with the first step. Remember, anything is possible."

Terry Diebold, a private practitioner and owner of the Center for Family Counseling in Fredericksburg, Va., says setting and achieving goals is all about finding the right time to change and should not necessarily correspond with a new calendar year. "I would rather see a New Year's resolution that was more like, 'I'm not going to be upset with myself if I don't keep my New Year's resolutions,'" Diebold says. "The ominous connotation of the New Year's resolution almost screams at you: You aren't going to be doing this by February!"

In fact, she says, the beginning of the new year might not be the best time for some individuals to embark on a journey toward change. Many people find themselves in a funk after the holidays, she points out, with the pace of life winding down and cold, wet weather threatening to linger for several more weeks. "You have to be ready to carry through a major goal, and to have a start date like Jan. 1 may be helpful for a while, but it's an artificial place to start," Diebold cautions. "You have to find that place within that says this is what you really want to do and you want to do it for yourself, not because it's the first of the year. It just may not be the best time to start working toward your goal."

However, for those who insist on "starting the new year right," she offers some supportive -- and comforting -- words. "If you slip, you can't beat yourself up," she says. "Change is made one day at a time."

Angela Kennedy is a senior writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at

The Do's and Don'ts of New Year's resolutions
To help clients determine and achieve their New Year's resolutions, Sue Waldman asks the following questions and supplies them with the "Dos and Don'ts of Making Change." Visit her website for more information on goals and growth.


  • What are your dreams for the new year?
  • How satisfied are you with your body image?
  • Your relationships?
  • Your career?
  • Your health?
  • Your spirituality?
  • Your finances?
  • Your love life?

The Dos

  • Do set realistic and achievable goals.
  • Do make a commitment to yourself and stay on track.
  • Do think positive and imagine that you have already achieved your goal.
  • Do think out of the box and do something you haven't ordinarily done before.
  • Do find balance.
  • Do keep a daily log of your activities to track your progress.
  • Do have fun and enjoy the process of being a better you.
  • Do be gentle with yourself.
  • Do reward yourself for your progress.

The Don'ts

  • Don't do it alone. Being accountable to someone inspires you.
  • Don't expect too much too soon.
  • Don't make too many goals. Stick with three key ones.
  • Don't surround yourself with people who won't support and champion you.
  • Don't ignore your plan.
  • Don't forget to remind yourself every day about what you want. (Establish a ritual that will remind yourself of your goal.)
  • Don't stop believing in yourself.
  • Don't give up.
  • It takes patience, personal commitment, a sustained effort to overcome obstacles, an openness to endure change, a clear sense of purpose and a willingness to fail if goals are ever to be anything more than dreams.

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