Jeff Fishbein, Psy.D.
Happy New Year to all of you. A few days into 2015 and I’m sure many of you have started your new year’s resolutions that for many of us will end as quickly as they began. For those of you who are able to remain committed, that is fantastic. The problem for most people who set New Year’s goals is that they are either somewhat unrealistic and/or do not have specific objectives to be met on a daily or weekly basis. For those of us with a diagnosis of Vasculitis, or for those with any chronic illness, the ability to start and maintain your goals is of critical importance.
When you focus solely on the goal (lose weight, run a ½ marathon, earn more money) you tend to lose sight of the objectives required to actually achieve that goal. This is what I refer to as focusing on the outcome versus the process. When we set a New Year’s resolution or goal, our focus tends to be locked in on that end, and our minds constantly shift toward that direction instead of the moments required to get to that end. This leads to frustration and disappointment because goals take time to achieve. Patience is required. This is why come late January, most don’t even focus on those resolutions anymore. The late author Steven Covey suggested that when you set a goal, you “want to begin with the end in mind.” I firmly agree with this statement in that in order to begin anything, you should know what it will look like when you have achieved that goal. I have my patients imagine and visualize that in order to make it a reality. I then instruct patients to put that away and develop daily and weekly objectives. This is the process. This will allow you to be consistent in your quest for whatever it is you desire.
On a personal level, after my diagnosis, I began to fight back by saying that I was going to become “more healthy.” I wasn’t really sure of what that meant until I set out specific behaviors I would engage in on a daily basis. For me, that entailed waking up around the same time each morning, heading down to the basement, walking quickly on the treadmill for 15-20 minutes, then working out with weights and bands to get my body in shape and to help me feel better in general. When I did this, I felt ready to attack the day ahead. When I didn’t, I struggled to get out of bed. I knew that so long as I focused on that process, I would feel better and my health would improve. It became easier to stick with this by shifting my focus from “I want to be more healthy” to “what am I going to accomplish today.” I’m proud to say that I have not missed a day since I made that commitment.
If you have an illness, I believe it is imperative to remain consistent. Committing to the process will enable you to stay with it. Once you set the long-term goal, then commit to the process day in and day out. Research shows it takes 3-4 weeks to establish a habit and as Aristotle said, “excellence is not an act, but a habit.” I say that habits are learned and so consistency will bring about the excellence you desire. Having a chronic illness is by no means a walk in the park; but a walk to the park each and every day just might make that illness a bit more manageable.
Have a healthy and happy New Year.
Dr. Jeffrey Fishbein is a licensed clinical psychologist and a partner in the practice of Drs. Gault, Fishbein and Associates and also as a sport psychologist for the Chicago White Sox professional baseball organization. He was diagnosed with non-systemic microvasculitis with multiple neuropathies.