We’re nearly two weeks into a new year, so let me start by wishing you a Happy Belated New Year! This isn’t just any year. It’s 2020, and it’s bringing in some hype, anticipation and contemplation. About 40% of the population started this year by making a Resolution. (I made two and - eek - already broke both of them!) Which makes me wonder, is there a secret formula to successfully changing our habits and patterns of thinking? To find out, I reached out to a veteran in the Mental Health field, Dr. Julie Sell-Smith, who inspired me to reconsider my plan and try again.
Today’s Spotlight: Dr. Julie Sell-Smith
Psy.D., MSW, LISW-S, Licensed Psychologist, Wife, Mother, Christian
Me: Let’s talk about New Year’s Resolutions. Is there a trick to keeping them? Because I have already broken mine.
Dr. Sell-Smith: Funny you should bring this up, Jessica. I recently read in an article that only 8% of people keep their resolutions.
Me: 8%! I’m already feeling better.
Dr. Sell-Smith: In my practice, I’ve observed that people don’t meet their resolutions or goals, because they’re too vague. For example, a person might say I want to get in shape this year. That’s too vague. We need to be more specific, like: I’m going to cut down on eating sugar and exercise X amount of times a week.
Also, our goals need to be realistic. If we’re concerned about this, then we can ask a friend, family member or professional: Am I being realistic?
We also need to be kind to ourselves. Here’s where Mental Health is really important. We tend to have this all or nothing mentality. If we slip up and eat something unhealthy in the morning then we think our whole day is shot. We say, I failed. But that’s not the attitude you want. You’ve got to retry the very next opportunity you get.
There’s this book called Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear that I recommend reading.
Me: It’s great to have tools to guide us in our personal lives.
Dr. Sell-Smith: Yes. I also recommend using tools to track your progress. There’s an app for everything these days so it’s easy to do. If weight loss is your goal, you can use My Fitness Pal. If meditation is your goal, you can use Insight Timer, and so forth. Tracking allows you to notice small changes over time that you might not normally consider. Sometimes we get trapped in thinking we’ve failed if we haven’t fully reached our end goal and fail to notice other, smaller changes.
Me: Looking back at the failure rate of people sticking to their resolutions, do you think making New Year’s Resolutions are a good idea?
Dr. Sell-Smith: Yes, they can be. Instead of picking a resolution, per se, I personally pick a theme for the year. Last year, my theme was Health and Wellness. This year, my theme is Being Brave. My goal is to say yes more to opportunities that scare me or make me uncomfortable. For example, public speaking. I have booked several speaking engagements for 2020.
Me: Well, I’m very excited that you’ll be speaking at our March Wellness Retreat! How can we prepare ourselves to successfully meet our goals?
Dr. Sell-Smith: We need to give ourselves time to prepare.
Me: So don’t wait until the night before to make a New Year’s Resolution. (Which might explain why I failed so quickly!)
Dr. Sell-Smith: Right. And once you settle on a resolution, make an announcement! Social psychology says if we make a public committment we are much more likely to follow through with our resolutions or goals. So if you’re going to make a goal, tell people about it. Tell your friends, family, co-workers. Put it on social media.
Me: Tell me how we can use Mindfulness to achieve a goal.
Dr. Sell-Smith: Some people thrive on setting a goal and completing it. But many of us don’t operate that way. Mindfulness is about learning how to sit with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and tolerating them without acting on them. Most thoughts and feelings enter our awareness and then leave. But many of us want to avoid or control uncomfortable thoughts. Mindfulness practices the opposite reaction. We look at how uncomfortable thoughts feel in the body, observe them, and then watch them leave. It’s like imagining your thoughts on a train car and watching them go by.
Me: I love this approach to Mental Health. Are many professionals using Mindfulness Behavior Therapy?
Dr. Sell-Smith: It’s actually so ancient that it’s new again! I discovered the practice of Mindfulness in my Doctoral program. I took a class on Mindfulness-based stress reduction. It was so beneficial I took it again two more times! We learned how to break down anxiety at the sensory level. For example, what color would you give your anxiety? What texture? If it had movement, how would it move?
Me: Why would we do that?
Dr. Sell-Smith: People believe their thoughts. But thoughts are just the inner workings of our mind. We don’t have to believe our thoughts. For example, "I’m not good enough". That is a common, yet unhelpful thought that people often buy into. We can’t be afraid of our thoughts and feelings. Otherwise, we’ll get locked in fear. Learning to observe them and then resisting the urge to react in an ineffective way is much more productive. I’d like to recommend a book, The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. There are great activities in this book on Acceptance and Commitment. If there’s only one book I can recommend to your readers, it’s this one.
Dr. Julie Sell-Smith thank you for sharing your time and insights with us. I hope this interview will help others move toward their goals in 2020!
Peace, health & happiness!