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  • Emily F. Pardo, Roxanna Juarez M.A, BCBA

The New Year and Aspirations

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

The New Year is rung in and just like in the years prior and to come, many people felt compelled to pen New Year’s Resolutions. While resolutions are not considered harmful, they can be stressful and risky. Rather than declaring lofty and abrupt changes, why not consider the alternative to traditional resolutions? A concept we call: Intentions.

Intentions are the idea that self-improvement is a lifelong process that begins and continues throughout our lives. You can set intentions during a New Year or on any day of the year when you are ready to make meaningful change. It requires self-reflection on personal choices and determining what activities and interactions could help you actualize your dreams. Think of intentions as steppingstones to your final goal –what does each stone represent on your journey towards the end result? There are many creative ways support your efforts from vision boards, podcasts, daily affirmations apps and social groups.

For parents of special needs children, it is all too easy to set your own dreams aside –or wonder how to fulfill them alongside the needs of your children. The good news: it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Both you and your child(ren) can grow alongside one another, one conscious step or choice at a time. Whether you desire personal improvement through skill acquisition or to lessen negative influences in your life, the idea is to examine your daily routine and identify choices that either bring you closer or further from your goal for that day. A single daily goal can be part of your big picture, but it removes the pressure of achieving it unrealistically fast. Below is a list of tips you may find helpful on your journey:

1. Small steps lead to greater changes: Studies have shown that approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail for reasons such as the scope of goal, insufficient planning or lack of accountability, or even fear of failure. Studies also show that time markers throughout the year, such as a new year, birthday, or significant moment (e.g., new diagnosis), promotes retrospection and subsequent desire to make change(s).

Amidst the abundance of information out there, we have an example that will make sense to a parent of a child with special needs. Take for example, adaptive skills training or therapeutic strategies. Just as some parents have come to understand that a single skill or goal is taught in several small steps which are then sequenced together or built upon to achieve the desired end goal, parents and caretakers can use the same techniques in their own lives for better outcomes.

2. Increase awareness of your own needs: This may be as basic as fulfilling hunger or getting enough rest at night. Self-care is being attuned to your body’s needs as they fluctuate throughout the year. The priority of self-care cannot be stressed enough. Many parents put their children’s needs first and at their own sacrifice of health –physical and/or mental.

How do you do this? First, choose a goal, for sake of argument, let’s decide to increase physical health. Your intention is not to “lose weight” nor be “bathing suit ready” by summer. How do you get there? Count steps? Join a gym? Online fitness subscription? Sure, these would all be great things to do, but before you spend money on any of these, are you ready for the long-term commitment needed to achieve your end goal? With intention setting, your focus is on creating or identifying the space –time, energy, nutrition—needed to pursue your physical health in small increments in your daily routine. The focus is on the journey and the steps you need to take to get to your end goal, not the end goal itself. It may take time. Be patient. The results will be easier to achieve and results long-lasting.

A second goal, let’s say, is to improve your mental health. Face it, as caregivers, fatigue and frustration are as common as (and often cured by) Starbucks. As parents, we can only endure for as long as we have the health to do so. While joining a local community yoga class would be ideal, in the days of Covid, many of us avoid most public events. With intention setting, carving out five-minutes a day for your own mental health will lead to more positivity, greater self-awareness, and improved emotional stability. Things you can do in five-minutes: take a brisk walk around the block, sit in the sun in your backyard and breathe deeply, try a five-minute guided mediation (there are many free ones available by app and online), keep a gratitude journal, create mantras, sing a meaningful song. It’s the simple things that reap the greatest rewards.

3. Choose positivity: Whether it be a family member, friend or activity, choosing people and things that uplift you as a person are essential. Taking on additional stress from outside sources adds no meaningful value to your life. Resist the temptation to return to pre-Covid negative social tendencies. Right now, we have this rare opportunity to break from negative energies of our past. Life is too short. Let them go. Focus on positivity. The more we focus on one thing, the more it becomes apparent –this is true if your focus is set on negative thoughts too. Set intentions to reflect daily on at least one positive moment that happened throughout the day. At first, it might take some effort, but after some practice, you will be well on your way to creating a new healthy habit and positive outlook.

Lastly, be kind to yourself and remember to reinforce and reward your own efforts. All too often we can be our own worst critic and be tempted to give up. Remember you are not alone; we are all on a personal journey to discovering our better selves.

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