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Kevin's Corner - February, 2023

Every month, The Sunset Project board member Kevin O'Brien breaks down news articles, stories, and people that he finds interesting and relatable to The Sunset Project's mission!

Kevin's Thoughts:

I have decided to take a different look at the new year. Consider this a one month check in. You’ve had time to sit with 2023, get to know it, and maybe start up a jazzy conversation, all in the hopes of trying to assess how this year is going to be compared to 2022. These are all valid thoughts as we push on through the first few months of the year. I want you all to take a minute and take inventory of how the past month or so has gone for you. What’s working? What’s not? Have you made any resolutions, if so how’s the progress on them?

Small tangent, but I always have had a slightly negative relationship with resolutions. I always feel like they are almost destined to fizzle out after a month. This is why I’m wanting to have a discussion about it now. We always have the best intentions at the start, but life can often get in the way. It doesn’t mean we’re lazy. It just happens. I’m also not trying to preach from my ivory tower; I have certainly fallen victim to setting resolutions and not following through with it... I already have!!! Labeling these resolutions, I have found, can be harmful. At least for me, I have this preconceived idea of what they are.

If you can’t tell already, I have a weird relationship with the great change of the year in general. It can be overwhelming to recall everything that has happened within the past year. I don’t necessarily believe that it takes a year to make a change, but it can be fitting to think about it with the feeling of a clean slate, a fresh start. There can be a tendency for me to block out all the bad things that have happened, but it is essential to accept what happened in order to move forward, as well as possibly prevent those things from happening again. The wisdom of that experience can provide a lesson even if it was painful.

Over the last two years or so, I have started to call resolutions the most elegant word in the English language: goals. It’s in renaming them that, at least for me, I am able to change my view and see this vision as something to truly be achieved. Goals are meant to be achieved! Here is a link that takes a decent dive into goal setting and can describe it way better than I can. Sometimes, doing something as simple as reframing the name of something can change our mindset and maybe even motivate us more to accomplish a task, to rise to the occasion.

Change is almost always scary; it’s a shift away from the familiar. Even if we know something is bad, it’s familiar, it’s comforting in a weird way. That can be a massive reason why people don’t change aspects of their personalities or harmful habits. It takes time and commitment. That’s the hard part, but once it becomes a routine, it will feel like a seamless transition in the long run.

There is a podcast called “A Slight Change of Plans” I recently found. One episode, in particular, focuses on goal setting and motivation to achieve them. Dr. Ayelet Fishbach is a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, and she studies motivation and decision-making. Fishbach talks about how we frame our goals is just as important as setting/achieving them. If we perceive a goal as manageable and our intent is good, we are able to do it. She breaks most goals down into approach and avoidance goals, and these can vary depending on our personality. For example, let’s say you want to look for a new job; an approach-oriented person would say “I want to find a job because I want to advance my career and develop new skills.” An avoidance person would say “I want to find a new job so I don’t have to deal with crappy benefits, pay, etc.” Approach goals might be slightly better in the sense that they do not feel like chores. They are meant to be more fun and exciting. Avoidance is more about protecting yourself in the short term. They both have their uses.

Fishbach also talks about how we can have high standards for ourselves in the future. We often are not very nice to future-us. Often we believe that in a snap we will get up at 6 am and start running 5k’s 3 times a week, even though you never were a distance runner. This is the point where we rein it in and start with building blocks. Maybe running a 5k is a long-term goal you want to achieve; maybe starting out smaller like going out for a run around the block twice a week is a better start. This now feels more attainable, and you can feel pride in yourself and maintain that motivation to keep going and build upon that goal.

One last Takeaway I have from this podcast is the idea of the “middle problem.” The middle problem is the difficulty most people have in sustaining our goals. This is typically what I think of for most New Year's resolutions: they fizzle out about halfway through January and we feel awful for not staying committed. Your motivation is really high at the start, but how do you get over the middle hurdle? Try to shorten the length of when you want to achieve your goal. If it’s exercising, say you want to exercise 3 days a week, and then roll it over onto the next one, and so on. It’s quick little chunks that give the feeling of accomplishment more frequently instead of one giant accomplishment 6 or so months from now. In an age where our attention has shortened, it’s vital to keep a good feeling going in the short term rather than one giant payoff down the road. If we don’t receive relatively immediate results, big or small, that diminishes motivation making quitting sound way more attractive. There is a lot of great information in this podcast, more than I can cover, but I highly encourage you to give it a listen! I’ll put the link to the episode via Spotify at the bottom, but I am sure you can find it wherever you get your podcasts.

I would also be remiss if I did not discuss the idea of SMART goals. SMART is an acronym typically used in therapy to guide clients in figuring out what they want to achieve in therapy. It stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. This has all been alluded to throughout this piece, but I wanted to shed light on it right now. SMART goals is a way of making the hypothetical possible. They are a means of bringing dreams into the realm of possibility. If you want to set a goal, start with looking through the lens of SMART. Asking how attainable this goal actually is is vital so that you are not fighting a losing battle. This is always a great resource and a great first step in setting your goal by asking those questions. Does it cover all the pieces of SMART?

The Take home:

I am a massive West Wing fan, and there is a quote that Martin Sheen’s character, the president, says, “Decisions are made by those who show up.” And that has been running through my head as I have been writing this. Interpret it how you want, but I see it as if we put in the time for ourselves, to give ourselves grace, to aim to be better, to stay away from bitterness and anger as best we can, the rewards will follow. I hope this provides a little bit of insight for you, and to do some inward reflection by asking yourself, “Who do I want to be this year, and how can I improve?”

Any views or opinions represented in Kevin's Corner are personal and belong solely to the blog publisher and do not represent those of people, institutions, or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity unless explicitly stated. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.

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