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Dear Sara, 
I’m an adult on the spectrum, and with everyone setting resolutions around the New Year, I’m starting to feel as if I should, too. The only problem is that I never seem to follow through on resolutions and end up even more discouraged. How can I set goals that will help me instead of making me feel worse?
-Realistic Resolutions

Dear Realistic Resolutions,
I am so glad you’re thinking about a New Year’s resolution! I just want to let you know it is also perfectly okay if you do not want to make a resolution this year. Some people have a lot of success with resolutions and some people do not. It often is easy to go along with what others are doing, but it is important to think about what you need and what works for you.

That being said, I would suggest writing down the resolutions you think are realistic for you. Ideally, this list would be no longer than five resolutions to keep it simple. This will help you begin to visualize what you want to accomplish. Next, rank them in order from most likely to achieve (1) to least likely to achieve (5). Think SMART when choosing a resolution: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-limited. 

For example, let’s say you want to lose weight. You can be specific about the amount of weight you want to lose (20 pounds). You can measure it (weighing yourself three times a week). Losing weight is Achievable (going to the gym, doing exercises at home, going for a walk). The amount of weight you want to lose is Realistic (20 pounds is not too much or too little). Finally, you can put a Time limit on when you want to lose weight (trying to lose 20 pounds by Memorial Day). Once you have broken down each of your resolutions in this way, you can choose the one that is most achievable with which to start.

Once you choose your resolution, make a list of the steps you need to take to complete it. If you're having trouble with this step, you can ask for someone to help you out, Google suggestions, or give yourself 30 minutes to do a brain dump of all the biggest elements of the project. You then should pick out the order in which those steps need to happen. 

From there, you can break down more complex steps into smaller steps. Let’s go back to the example of losing weight. Some possible steps might be: get a gym membership, schedule time to go to the gym, follow a diet, and schedule a consistent time to weigh yourself. A good rule of thumb is if it takes three minutes or less, do it immediately. While getting a gym membership might take more than three minutes, it is the easiest step to take. Following a diet can be hard, so some smaller steps could be: research different diets, talk to your doctor, go grocery shopping for healthier foods, clean out fridge of unhealthy foods, and plan meals ahead of time. If possible, make sure to have a small reward after each step. Perhaps you watch an episode of your favorite show after signing up for the gym membership. Maybe you plan a “cheat day” after six consecutive days after following your diet. You also could play a game or read after a good workout.

The important thing to keep in mind when attempting a New Year’s resolution is that there might be times when you don’t reach your goal. Maybe you couldn’t get to the gym or you were too low on energy to exercise. Maybe you had a rough day and indulged in more ice cream. It is okay to have bad days, it is okay to slip up. You can forgive yourself; you are trying and doing your best. If you find you’re having difficulty progressing with your steps, then it might be time to reevaluate those steps to something more achievable. If things get too overwhelming, remind yourself—“I’m good enough today.”

Best of luck with your New Year’s journey!

Sara Lahti, MA   
AuSM Counseling and Consulting Services
Dr. Amy Carrison, PsyD, LADC
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Sara Pahl, MS, BCBA, LPCC, NCC
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Dr. Jennifer S. Reinke, PhD, LAMFT, CFLE
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Bjorn Walter, MA
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Beth Pitchford, MA, LPCC
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Meg Benefield, MSW, LICSW
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Sara Lahti, MA
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