Stretching and exercise

No more excuses: Taking a small step today can help change your life. Photo: Ivy Fleming

Most people aspire to be more, do more, and live more fulfilling lives. We dream about being a better parent, having more money, exercising more often, and being more engaged with our kids and spouse. We want to enjoy every day, trying to put aside past hurts so that they no longer affect our present behavior.

Our dreams for self-improvement get shattered by the hectic schedules of our daily lives, or so we think and feel. We use the excuse of being busy as the pseudo explanation for our failure to change our lives. The real reason is something else.

Self-improvement guru Tony Robbins captured the underlying cause in his comment that "most people know what to do, but don't do what they know." We confuse hoping with acting. Dreams accomplish nothing. It's working rather than wishing that is responsible for our success.

Once a year society gives us a collective opportunity to change our lives. It's our annual ritual of making New Year's resolutions. About half of us will make that effort, but 90 percent of us will fail. Why?

We can learn a lot by studying people who are successful in their efforts, and here is what they seem to have in common.

1. Take small steps. It's fine to dream big but it's important to think and act small. If your goal is to increase exercising, focus on something very modest that you can do almost every day, such as walking around the block. Increase your weekly goals only after you have changed some very small habits.

2. Develop a plan. Have a specific strategy regarding how you will achieve your goal. If your goal is lose weight, your plan may be as simple as drinking one less soda every day. Be flexible and adjust your approach as needed.

3. Focus on your attention. Remember that you are trying to change habits that may have been developed over many years. This will be uncomfortable, and you will likely fail in your initial attempts. You'll need to change the way you think if you want to change the way you act.

Become totally preoccupied and even passionate about your goal. If your objective is to spend more time with your kids, let that thought meander around your mind throughout the day.

4. Develop reward systems. Consider telling your friends about your efforts, so as to receive social support from them. When you achieve some small successes, take a few moments in mindful reflection to take pride in what you've accomplished.

Stop your dreaming, end your excuses and take a small step today in changing your life. You'll be joining the 10 percent of New Year's resolutions that do result in people living more satisfying lives.

Dr. Gregory Ramey is a child psychologist at Dayton Children's Hospital. This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News.

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