How to Actually Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions with Espen Klausen, Ph.D.

Episode 36

The start of the new year always brings about resolutions for change. Unfortunately, most of us give up our resolutions by the end of the first month. So, if you’re thinking about making changes and you want those changes to last, this episode is for you!

My guest today was actually my very first guest on this podcast and I knew I had to bring him back for this episode because he’s a Psychologist who has some incredibly helpful insights into how to turn our resolutions into our new habits and routines.

In this episode, Espen Klausen, Ph.D., talks about the biggest challenge people face when starting a new year’s resolution, why you need to understand your core values before you think about making changes, why you should focus on the process rather than the result of long-term goals, what to do when you start to feel discouraged, the importance of rewarding yourself, and much more!

Mentioned in this episode:

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Andrea: Dr. Espen Klausen, it’s great to have you back on the Voice of Influence podcast!

Dr Espen Klausen: Thank you and thank you for having me back.

Andrea: Yes! Well, I have been thinking about this New Year’s Day edition for a while. I knew that I wanted to have you on because I know that New Year’s resolutions and this fresh start that we all have here in this New Year, it’s exciting and encouraging.

I love having a fresh start, but I know that a lot of people really struggle with actually making changes that last. And sometimes even just deciding that they want to make a change, it’s so easy to say in the status quo.

So let’s start with a question about what do you see when people are ready to make a change, when they want to do a New Year’s resolution or whatever? What are some of the big challenges that you see people facing with a New Year’s resolution?

Dr. Espen Klausen: The biggest challenges I find is that very often the things they want to change, they don’t necessarily want to change for the real reason, or they haven’t actually related what they want to change to who they are or what they want as a person. They tend to focus on things that there’s external pressures for or things that relate to things that they feel guilty about or shameful about.

They’re may be good things to change and in the end they’re maybe trying to change the right thing but, very often, they relate it back to the wrong things. We all have core values and, if we really going to change something, it’s only going to change if we can relate that change back to what’s actually us at the core.

Andrea: So how do people know what their core values are? I’m really aware that there are a lot of people who do not really realize what they most care about. They might kind of have an idea but they’re really more reacting in life rather than thinking about stuff and responding. But how do we really find out what those core values are and make that bridge back to that trigger I guess that is going to help us remember why we want to make this change in our life?

Dr. Espen Klausen: Sure! Here’s the simple version with which might give people a start. They go online and search term “core values” or list of core values and find lots of lists of core values that you can browse through and a lot of people find just from that. A few of these values listed just pop out and “Oh yeah, that’s totally me,” but actually, it’s beyond that too. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll put this on the spot here because, hey, I didn’t prepare you for this, Andrea. But Andrea, I know my wife knew you when you grew up but I didn’t so I don’t know this. When you were young, what toy do you remember most liked?

Andrea: Hmmm, I remember Raggedy Ann doll.

Dr. Espen Klausen: Uh-huh, what do you like about Raggedy Ann?

Andrea: I think she had a song associated with her. I don’t actually totally remember, but I think there was some sort of song associated. So I think I liked her because of that and yeah. I don’t know.

Dr. Espen Klausen. OK. It’s funny, you should say that though, because I don’t know how much you ended up talking about this new podcast, but music was very much been a big part of your life, hasn’t it?

Andrea: Right.

Dr. Espen Klausen: It’s pretty safe to say that music is one of your core values. You just wouldn’t be happy if music is cut out of your life. So we got one right there. For other people, it was building blocks and to find that “Oh one of my core values actually is building it.”

So going back even the childhood behaviors, favorite games, or childhood’s favorite toys you’ll find it there. Nobody hints up project at school or progress at work that we’ve had where we finished a project or we finished what we’re supposed to but in the next days, not in a worry anxious sense but kind of just interest sense or where our brain goes. Our brain just keeps gravitating back to it or studying more, learning more, or perfecting a project _____. We just naturally feel drawn to do it that usually means as our core values or too involved in there.

It’s just another kind of thing you can go through to define that kind of hint. Another thing too is also looking at things like what’s your favorite book, what’s your favorite movie, or what makes that your favorite? It usually boils down to core values in one way or another.

Andrea: Hmmm, I like that. I love looking for clues for stuff like that. I think that’s really fun. But I think that is kind of hard to do that if you’re not used to doing that. The idea of looking online just for list of core values, I hadn’t thought of that before but, I suppose you could just look at the list, at least you begin to identify what some of those things are for you.

Dr. Espen Klausen: Yeah and it’s particularly useful if you combine those two strategies because when you think of a childhood toys or activities, you may not think about that “Oh what does that mean?” But if while thinking about that, you look through at list like that and that usually helps your brain connect the dots.

Andrea: OK, so we’ve got some sort of idea whatever our core values are, but you know what, Espen, I’m feeling like I wanted to make this change in my life for myself but it’s going to take time and it’s going to take energy. I feel like I shouldn’t take that time and energy away from my family. Or I feel like I shouldn’t take that time and energy away from the other people that I serve. What do you say to somebody like that who’s saying that that wants to make a change in their lives but they just don’t feel like they should take that extra energy away from other people?

Dr. Espen Klausen: Yeah a lot of people have that battle and it’s a very understandable battle. One big key in dealing with that is making sure it’s not an ongoing battle. We have to make a decision about how much time or financial resources is it okay for you to set aside because if you’re going to commit to making a change, you have to make a decision of how much you’re also willing to set aside for it; otherwise, you’ll just kind of keep getting cut in this guilt of “Oh I can’t do it,” every time you do it then it’s not going to last.

So let’s say someone is deciding to “OK, I need to get fit. I need to be healthy. I’m gonna need to make these changes, but I’m busy with the young kids and then it’s hard to find the time where I feel guilty about it.” Then the need to split ups, set a number of hours they’re willing to spend each week and exercise and make a decision maybe even with the family, “OK, if I spend three hours a week exercising then that’s then, I don’t have to feel guilty about three hours of exercising.” If they don’t do that then every hour they spend exercising, they’ll feel guilty about it even if it’s just one hour. That decision has to be made.

Another thing that becomes important in all of this too is…I’ll use an analogy here. In a lot of different work I do, I use an analogy for bucket. In this case is a caring bucket or a giving bucket, and we only have so much in our bucket. Now, with rest, with time, or with activities; our bucket can filled back up again. But if we keep giving and giving and giving and giving, our bucket gets empty. We need to have activities in our life that helps fill our bucket and it helps fill our bucket then it’s a lot easier to give it to others.

A lot of clients I worked with, we’re all working on a _____ issue of taking time to themselves and those things that helps fill their bucket. A lot of mothers and fathers who have not been exercising, for example, because they have so much busyness with kids, but once they committed an exercise routine, they often find that they have more energy and get more things done and actually end up being better parents. And for a totally unselfish reason of being better parents still turned out to be the right thing.

The same thing can go for someone wanting to learn about a new topic and get out of their regular life. And very often, we find that when a person is pursuing some personal goals, it enriches and improves their caring and helping and investment motivation for everything else as well.

Andrea: Yes, definitely!

Dr. Espen Klausen: I’ll take it to the point where I work in county public mental health; I have an employer who is very conscientious of not allowing us to work overtime. You know, if you work too much without having the time to explore other interests and get rest prioritizing ourselves in our development and healing then we are not good clinicians. If we were working a lot of hours we’d become bad clinicians and are likely to dropout our profession altogether, which of course is not actually the caring thing for clients.

Andrea: Right. But don’t you have to then put aside…doesn’t it end up happening that the clients still get to see you as soon or somebody doesn’t get seen that day. As a leader yourself, how do you handle that knowing that you’re not meeting everybody’s needs on that day, but in a long term it’s better for everybody in the end? I don’t know, how do you handle that in a moment?

Dr. Espen Klausen: That does get difficult doesn’t it? Because I rationally know that that when there’s a need for client and sometimes my mind thinks “Oh you know, I could stay an extra hour and I can see this client who really needs to get in,” except, I’ve learned overtime that that leads to less quality work and it’s now not fair to the client I’m seeing the next day.

So it’s that awareness, but it’s hard, as human beings much like animals, we have a lot easier times seeing the need in front of us rather than the long term effects of things then it goes on reminding ourselves.

Andrea: Yes, yeah.

Dr. Espen Klausen: It helps if you can remind ourselves that our reason for doing it, our reason for setting those boundaries or setting aside time for ourselves is usually the most effective when we can relate it back to the temptation of not doing so. For example, if I have the urge to put in a client and work an extra hour, I could argue with myself that “Oh, I don’t wanna do that because now I’m taking away time from my daughter.” But you know I could do that, but it’s not likely to be as effective as if I relay it back to the very motivation for getting the client into my schedule to begin with.

Andrea: OK, so explain that.

Dr. Espen Klausen: Well, I want to help clients. I want to help clients that’s why I have the urge to squeeze these clients in, you know, this evening, yet it then helps that I can tell myself “If I keep doing that, I’m not gonna be very much help to my clients.” And should I do that, eventually I’m gonna burn out. I’m gonna have more sick leaves. There gonna be clients that are cancelled and in the long run I’m gonna work again what I’m trying to do by squeezing them in.”

I’ll give you an example that kind of goes beyond that too. At the moment my exercise regimen is early in the morning and it means I have to get up early than I do as I would. Sleep is important. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get enough sleep but I initially went into it thinking, “I don’t have time to exercise.” But of course that was the time I wasn’t exercising at all. What I didn’t realize is the fact that I’m exercising and I’m more fit and now healthy.

Actually, I don’t require nearly as much sleep as I used to. I’ve actually earned the time from exercising by needing less sleep. And very often, the very things that prevent us from setting aside the time, not always, but very often can have motivators in us to set aside that time. Like, “Let’s do parenting” or “I can’t take time to myself because I need to be there for our kids.” Most kids experience that when a parent has had time to themselves to explore a different interests or done something else and the mind of the parent comes back refreshed.

Kids usually experience that this parent is now more present and more available in more quality time and that’s what really what the kids usually tends to crave. They crave parents that are attentive and responsive. And if anytime away, you need to take hours, whether it’s in a weekend or whether you shut the door and go do a bible study and refresh their minds, it’s when they come out that they’re more responsive. It’s a huge, huge value of the parenting of that child.

Andrea: OK, so we’ve gotten through like maybe three or so things that kind of hold people back or cause problems when it comes to setting or falling through on making changes. I’m thinking of another one now that I hear a lot and things that people don’t even realize that they’re saying. But oftentimes, I think people look at someone else, who maybe ran a marathon, or somebody who is doing something that they admire but they think “I can’t do that.” They just automatically kind of that’s their response, “I can’t.” What do you say to that person?

Dr. Espen Klausen: Usually, I want to hear that and my first question is, is this something you actually want to. This brings back to the beginning of our discussion, our core values. Is this something that’s actually important to you? If someone else run a marathon, “OK, do you really want to run a marathon?” Because often, we try to set these goals for ourselves that are not actually based on what we want and never mind the comparison, “Well, they can do it, I should be able to do it.” Yeah, but do we actually want to? Do you have that value in your life? If it does, OK. If it what’s important to you then yeah you can. Not yet, not at this point.

It usually boils down to what’s one of the biggest issue with a lot of kind of New Year’s resolution anyway is we tend to focus on this overall goal or what I call a long-term goal is where you want to get to and those goals usually turn out to actually be quite unimportant. We should think of long-term goals importance as being motivators and not goals.

Andrea: OK

Dr. Espen Klausen: Our long-term goals tend to change, and if the long-term goals is what represent success for you and the point of the long-term goal is that goal that’s the only thing that’s going to make it worth it then you probably should reconsider, unless you find, which is going to be more important. Are the steps you take to get there valuable to you regardless?

Andrea: OK, so you’re saying that this long term goal, if it’s not just a motivation, if it’s truly the goal and that is what I’m seeking, I have to lose 30 pounds or whatever it is. You’re saying that’s not a good goal? You’re saying that you need to reconsider the actual goal because you don’t value the process of getting to the goal? Is that kind of what you’re saying?

Dr. Espen Klausen: I’m saying that goal is okay if it works as a motivator. If it doesn’t work as a motivator then you have to rethink it. Very often that also goes to the phrasing of the goal which we tend to be quiet for at. For example, very rarely have I met a person whose goal actually is to lose 30 pounds, because what’s the benefit of losing 30 pounds? There is no benefit to losing 30 pounds. Now, to lose body fat that has a lot of benefits. Losing 30 pounds does not.

Andrea: It might have a little benefit on your knees and your joints and that sort of thing but…

Dr. Espen Klausen: Aha, now you’re getting into it, isn’t it?

Andrea: Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Espen Klausen: OK, so the long term goal is less back pain or less knee pain. Maybe, it’s about having more energy; maybe it’s about getting rid of the pain. What’s the real reason for losing those 30 pounds, because if losing those pounds actually now meant more pain, what was the point?

Andrea: Right.

Dr. Espen Klausen: So long-term goal should be a motivator. It should be something that makes you want to do it. But the real goals that really actually matter is your step-by-step process goals and the process goals are how you do it. So let’s say someone wants to lose 30 pounds. OK then they should not focus on the 30 pounds. That’s a long-term goal, that’s the motivator, and now they need to set process goals that are each week or it could be day-to-day, “What are the things I need to do? What are the goals I’m setting each week?” “OK, each week, I’m gonna run for an hour or twice and I’m going to do at least a thousand steps a part from the running.” OK, those are process goals. In those process goals that in the end actually end up _____.

Andrea: Sure! It sounds like those are really more like the actual tasks that you’re going to do.

Dr. Espen Klausen: Yes. But the problem people that I run into is they try to do these things but then they tend to measure themselves based on the overall long-term goal. But they need to give themselves feedback every week based on the process goals.

Andrea: Yes sure.

Dr. Espen Klausen: So if they run for two times one hour and they did all those steps and then the step on the scale at the end of the week and they’re off 2 pounds, they have to tell themselves “Good job!”

Andrea: Sure!

Dr. Espen Klausen: Sure, they may not be heading in the direction of long-term goal according to the scale, but they were doing what they’re supposed to. They were meeting their process goals and those process goals that are already important ones.

Andrea: I think that’s such a really important piece of this puzzle. But I also know that sometimes when you get to that point and you do see the scale having gone up instead of going down and you see that for a couple of weeks, you start to get discouraged and think that you’re not on the right track and maybe you’re doing the wrong things or that you’re process is wrong somehow. What would you do in that case?

Dr. Espen Klausen: In that case, it now becomes very important and even more so important now that you take an attitude of telling yourself “Good job!” You’re talking exactly kind of situation where now people are getting down on themselves but you want to tell yourself good job because you’re actually meeting your goals as you need to give yourself a pat on the back for that. Because it’s not just important for what you’ve done, that’s important for what you now will do in the future.

If you found out that the process you’ve been doing or the way to get to the goal was wrong, if you’re now telling yourself bad job then you’re going to be less motivated for the new process you find. If you find that “OK, I used a bad process but I did well doing what I told myself to do. I did that process correctly, good job! It’s just the process was wrong, OK, now I’ll change the process. If I work as hard at it then I’ll make a progress.”

Andrea: Yeah, so at the point, really it’s not about whether or not you’re value and whether or not you put the effort in, it’s more about what the actual data is. Yeah, the process is a part from you basically. You get to look at that objectively instead of looking at as something that you’re measuring against your own. I don’t know what I’m saying. I can’t say it.

Dr. Espen Klausen: All I could say, the factor into that is very often our long-term goals are not totally under our control. We should phrase our process goals in such a way that they’re mostly under our control. You never know when you’re going to get a flu and you didn’t get out and run. But the process goals, you can usually phrase in such a way that it’s under your control. Sometimes, the long-term goal is harder to control.

Andrea: When you say the long-term goal is harder to control, you’re saying that actually achieving that goal is harder to control?

Dr. Espen Klausen: Yes! Our long-term goals tend to depend on a lot of factors that may not have to be with us.

Andrea: OK

Dr. Espen Klausen: For example, let’s say someone has such a goal of “I want to have better relationships with my family.” You can set a process goals for that, like “I’m gonna make at least five positive statements to my spouse and each of my kids every day, and I’m going to spend at least two hours each day that I’ve set aside for my family, even if I have a busy day.” Any person can do that and can meet those goals and if they met those goals, they have to tell themselves, good job. But that doesn’t guarantee that the rest of the family will get along with you because they have emotions, experiences, busyness, and their own challenges going on.

Someone might have a long-term goal of adopting from a country and double this process goals to get in and this would be heartbreaking, which has happened to people I know, just as they’re ready to start the adoption that country closes down in terms of adoption and you can’t adopt in that country anymore. Now, that means that they should not be telling themselves “Oh I failed,” because they actually succeeded with the outside influences that did not lined up.

It’s also important because sometimes, it turns out that the long term goal is wrong. But the pursuit of goals usually put us in the right direction even if the long-term goal was wrong. For example, I worked hard through high school to get into medical school. Where I come from; you would go straight to the medical school out of high school. But I took a year off and then decided to take some college classes and in taking college classes, I discovered psychology. I found out that I didn’t want medical school. It would put me on a track that’s not who I am and my core values lined up much better with becoming a psychologist.

Now, a lot of the hard work I had done and all the process goals I’ve been working through in order to get into medical school, they were not wasted because that hard work is what got me good grades, maybe a good student, allowed me to get a scholarship. Now, later on, resulting in getting a good graduate school that paid me rather than me paying them and got me a great psychology education and here I am as a psychologist. It’s much better go through that process than if I had not pursued medical school.

So if a long term-goal is not correct, it doesn’t necessarily matter that much. It usually irons itself out in the process. As long as we focus on those process goals and we meet those process goals then we usually made progress towards the goal we eventually end up having as the correct one anyway.

Andrea: I love that. Yeah, I’ve set about a lot that before and a lot of times people really do, they get very, very upset. They feel like they were going down the wrong path because they switch goals. But in the end, I’m thinking “But you’re taking steps, you’re in movement. You’re making some sort of progress but you just change the direction.”

So I really appreciate that especially for these new year’s resolution that maybe they’re not about long-term calling and finding your job that you want to do and things like that and you just want to lose weight or you just want start take a course or create a course or whatever. But as you take steps toward it, you really get more clear about what that long-term goal really is. Yeah, you need that motivator at the beginning to say “Well, I have a vision for where I’m headed. That vision might change but at least I’m taking steps towards it.” I love that.

Dr. Espen Klausen: Now, that final goal gives us a reward, something that turns out to be very helpful. The very hard for people who tends to deny themselves things is when they have process goals and they meet those process goals, it benefits people to have self rewards in the process that they’ve planned for, “Oh once I’ve exercised three times a week for five weeks in a row, I’m gonna go out for Chinese.” Or “Hey, I want that new shirt.” A little bit more money than usually you want to spend but, “If I’ve gotten two pages written a day on my book for the next three weeks, I’ll buy that shirt.”

It makes it easy for the brain to keep that shorter term focus and getting things done each day and it’s not about that reward being worth the work. It’s a way of helping our brain understand that “Hey, I am appreciative of the work I am doing.” I might sound really weird, but as adults, we actually become our own parents. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make with this is they earned their rewards and then they’re like “Yeah, but we shouldn’t spend the money,” or “I shouldn’t spend that time. I should spend on this other thing that someone else’s need or that might kids’ need,” and they end up denying themselves. What people don’t realize is our brains learn whether we can trust ourselves or not.

Andrea: That’s interesting.

Dr. Espen Klausen: Yes. When we don’t ourselves the things we promised ourselves as rewards, we start having a harder and harder time motivating ourselves because our brain actually doesn’t trust ourselves.

Andrea: Yeah, that’s really a valuable piece of information right there.

Dr. Espen Klausen: When I have kind of reward program when I work with kids, usually their rewards are not that big. The rewards are just a way of making something concrete, something they can touch and see that clues the words of good job or “Hey kid, keep going. You really got this,” or “I’m really proud of you.” It really helps sink in that my words are not empty. They’re not just the things I’m saying, I really mean it as proven by the sticker I gave you even though that sticker cost like 1 cent. It just makes it more powerful for the brain that “Hey, it’s really true.” The same thing goes when we reward ourselves even if it’s in a tiny way, even if it’s a tiny chocolate piece, it sends that signal to the brain that “Yes, I really do mean good job and it did make progress and I should keep this up.”

Andrea: Interesting! Yeah and it sounds like those rewards need to be appropriate and not go overboard, I guess. I think I’m going to go have Chinese and then have ice cream and then have some chocolates. Probably it isn’t the right idea but…

Dr. Espen Klausen: Yeah, because I skip a hundred calories this morning.

Andrea: Oh man that’s really, really good and helpful. OK, Espen, so in closing, I’d like to ask one more question about the choosing of that long-term goal, because most of us when we say New Year’s resolution, we do have a long-term goal in mind, and yet, we sometimes choose the wrong thing. So what do you recommend that we do to make sure that we are at least starting out on the right path with the right long-term goal, even if it kind of shifts in the process? Yeah, how do we choose the right one?

Dr. Espen Klausen: Dig down into those core values. Try to figure out what are your core values. Most people should be able to, with a liberal work, get together a list of between five or eight core values and then really look at those and ask yourself, “Which one is missing in my life? Which one at some point did I put aside? Which of these is not given the attention it needs?” That’s the one you’re most likely to be motivated by and it’s the one that’s most likely to have the biggest effect on you if you make progress towards it. That’s the one that’s going to be most likely to reduce depression and anxiety. It’s the one that most likely to make you less focused on any physical or emotional pain in your life. It’s the one that’s most likely rejuvenate you to make you more enthusiastic and receptive parent, employee, employer, writer, or artist; meeting the least matched core value is where you’re most valuable long-term goal is going to be.

Andrea: That’s great! Love it! Thank you so much, Espen, for sharing your wisdom with us. We’re ready to kick off this New Year with really great start on our resolutions and goals and process goals, we won’t forget those in rewarding ourselves with lots of good jobs!



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