The New Year is a time for all families and individuals to look forward to creating new opportunities and starting fresh with possibilities. The challenges, hardships, and bad memories from the previous year are gone – a chapter closed in your life’s book. The New Year kicks off a new chapter and you, as the author, have the ability to create an amazing story! But how do you do this? For families and individuals affected by autism, starting a new year does not need to feel overwhelming. Instead, it can be an exciting opportunity to create resolutions.
Start With a New Year’s Resolution
A resolution is simply a promise to yourself to complete a goal. The news and internet are full of suggestions for making resolutions, from losing weight and eating healthier, to finding a better job. But not all resolutions need to be so grand and, therefore, hard to achieve. A small goal is easy to accomplish and even easier to keep up over time. Most importantly, the goal needs to fit your needs and interests. This article offers thoughts and suggestions to help you pick the best resolution and create a plan to ensure your success this year.
Pick a Reasonable Goal
Your New Year’s resolution, or personal goal, should be a task or habit that you are really interested in and can reasonably achieve. This is especially important if goal setting is new for you. Avoid complex ideas such as learning a new language, losing a lot of weight, or making more money.
Instead, start small. If you want to lose weight, start with something like cutting out snacking between meals (avoid sweets), picking healthier foods for your meals, or taking a 30-minute walk every day. If you want to have money to buy your favorite video games or go on a vacation, consider putting $50 (or any amount you can afford) a month into a savings account or making a dedicated shopping list for when you go to the store, which will reduce the possibility you will buy items you do not need. By creating these small goals, you will quickly see that you are able to accomplish them and build up momentum to add more goals over time.
Here are some ideas for resolutions that might work for you:
- Call a family member every Sunday.
- Clean your room twice a week.
- Drink two bottles of water (or 16 ounces) per day.
- Exercise for 30 minutes per day.
- Get more sleep or go to bed at a set time every day.
- Learn a new hobby.
- Meet up with friends or family twice per week.
- Stop electronics at a set time or restrict electronics to no more than two hours per day.
- Use a daily planner.
Create a Goal List and Prioritize
If you have a lot of goals that you want to tackle this year, don’t start them all of them at once. Instead, create a list of all of the goals, review the list to make sure the goals are reasonable, and then organize the list according to priority and your interest.
Make sure to move goals that are smaller and easier to complete to the top of the list and more advanced goals to the bottom. That way, when you’ve built in habits that move you toward completing your goals, you’ll be ready for those advanced ones. Additionally, make sure to move any critical goals that will deeply impact your life to the top of the list as well. For example, if you have to take a new medication for your health and your goal is to take it on time, then that goal should be first on your list.
Establish a Daily Routine
So now that you are excited to get started as soon as possible, create a routine. Resolutions often fail if you try to “find time” each day to fit time to work on your goal. Instead, if you have a goal that needs to be practiced daily, dedicate an assigned time every day for that practice. For example, let’s say that your resolution is to read a book for 30 minutes a day. To keep yourself successful, make a spot in your schedule, such as 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., to complete your reading. Use tools such as a planner or alert on your phone to remind you each day.
Stay Committed for a Month
While you may intend to keep your resolution for the entire year, don’t lock yourself into that length of time when you start. Instead, focus on one month at a time. Many habits get established, and therefore easier to do, after being practiced for a month. So aim to practice the goal or task for an entire month. When that month is complete, challenge yourself to take on the next month.
Tell Your Friends
As you work on your goal, you may need extra motivation to keep going. A fun way to get that motivation is by telling your friends and family about your resolution. Let them know what you want to accomplish, the scheduled time that you’re going to practice, and why that goal is important to you. They can help you stay accountable to achieving your goal. They can also help you celebrate when you achieve your goal.
Track Your Progress
An important tool to use in achieving your goal is to track your progress. Specifically, use a planner or calendar to document each day that you practice or work on your goal. If you are working on a goal that builds up over time, such as learning a new hobby or reducing the amount of video games you play, you can also document your progress and successes. For example, if you want to reduce your use of electronics, start small by stopping 10 minutes earlier than you usually do. Keep track of how you are shortening your video game time so you can see the reduction over time. If your goal is to read more, write down what happened in the chapter you read that made you read an additional hour because you couldn’t put the book down. If your goal is to talk with your grandmother weekly, write about what she shared with you. These small wins will be a fun way to reflect on how far you’ve come, and help motivate you if you get stuck.
This is one of the most important steps to help you be successful. Make sure to reward yourself for practicing your goal throughout the week. Use small treats such as a special candy or your favorite drink, or give yourself additional time with your favorite video game or activity. If you have a large goal that needs to be accomplished over time, then give yourself a larger reward when you reach that goal. For example, If you have successfully gotten more sleep or gone to bed at a set time each night for a month, reward yourself with your favorite restaurant meal. Are you going on three months of doing what you resolved to do? Maybe that deserves buying the new dress you have been wanting.
Most importantly, reward yourself daily by telling yourself that you are doing a great job. Be your own cheerleader!
Tabitha Ramminger, MS, BCBA, is a licensed behavior analyst and the deputy inspector general for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. She specializes in organizational behavior management, which is the science of applying behavioral principles to individuals and groups within a business to create organizational improvement. Additionally, she has a strong clinical background in working with children with autism spectrum disorder and their families. She specializes in life skills training and reducing challenging behavior that impacts functional living.