Dr. Mike Ronsisvalle
It’s hard to believe we are about to race forward together into another new year.
This time last year we had incredible anticipation about the potential of shedding the oppression of COVID-19 and launching forward into a year that would bring much needed peace.
Unfortunately, that was not how this year played out.
The Delta and omicron variants brought new lockdowns, heightened fears about COVID in general, and added more chronic stress and emotional upheaval.
It comes as no surprise, considering everything we went through together, the emotional toll on us collectively has been staggering.
Depression and anxiety rates continue to rise to alarming levels.
The incidence of addiction and overdose have skyrocketed over the last year.
Marital problems are more complicated as parents try to find ways to connect with their children who are living with their own mental health problems.
Dr. Mike’s previous three columns:
Collectively, it seems we are a mess.
As a psychologist and an advocate for mental health, I’d like to propose a New Year’s resolution that we all adopt and chase after together.
What would happen if we all decided to pursue improved mental health in 2022?
When you look at how devastating the mental health crisis truly is, I can’t imagine a better goal for us to pursue culturally.
There’s one problem with my proposal: most of us are aware that we need to make changes to improve our mental health, but what we lack is the how-to.
That would be the challenge for many of us because there is a huge difference between possessing a desire to be less stressed, depressed and anxious and actually obtaining the skill set that would help us change our life for the better.
Here’s the roadmap you can follow if you’re with me and are ready to make 2022 the year you improve your mental well-being.
Commit to what you already know will work
If I were to ask you what you needed to do in order to improve your mental well-being, could you make a list of activities and habits that would probably help?
My hunch is we could all make that list without having to try very hard.
Most people are aware that stress, depression and anxiety improve dramatically when we do things like exercise, practice mindfulness, eat healthy meals, and connect with other people in supportive relationships.
As a matter of fact, all it takes is one quick internet search to create an entire protocol for mental well-being.
So, let’s be clear: the path to improving your mental health is not a mystery. Yet, most of the time we struggle to execute even the most simple coping skills with consistency. We know what to do, we just have to figure out how to follow through.
The first step to improving your mental well-being is to write out a list of at least three activities you can complete consistently that will help you begin to feel better.
Once you have your list in place, you should mentally and emotionally commit to following through with all three strategies.
It will be helpful to write out the specific amount of time and energy you will devote to each of your mental health-boosting activities.
For instance, if you are committing to exercise consistently in 2022, you should literally write the sentence: “I will exercise for at least 30 minutes on [DATE] in [PLACE] at [TIME].”
The research is very clear that writing down our goals makes it much more likely we will follow through.
It’s also important to attach reinforcements for following through with mental health goals for 2022.
I recommend you write out how you are going to reinforce yourself for following through with your mental health goals every week.
If you’d like access to a worksheet that will help you identify your goals, articulate the consistency with which you will complete your goals, and create reinforcement for follow-through visit our website at LiveWellBehavioralHealth.com/goalworksheet.
Create a plan to START NOW
The human brain values immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.
When you begin to think about implementing the plan you create for better mental well-being in 2022 you will actually be making plans for your future self.
We love to make plans for our future self because it makes us feel excited about making progress and hopeful that we can live better.
When you think about the future it is easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits.
The problems come when we have to decide in the moment about what’s happening right here, right now.
That doesn’t involve the future self. That’s a completely different ballgame for us neurologically because our brain likes instant gratification in the present, not long-term self-actualization.
So you can sit on your couch as you read this article and envision an awesome life in which you make significant changes in your mental health, but tomorrow when you wake up you’re going to be making decisions about the present self right here, right now.
Because our brain values long-term benefits when they are in the future, and values immediate gratification when it comes to the present moment, we tend to struggle with making the choices that will lead to a healthier tomorrow.
To resist the pull of instant gratification we need a plan.
A strong body of research has linked visualizing the positive emotion of following through with a goal to getting started with the goal behaviors here right now.
Here’s how this strategy can play out in your life daily.
When it’s time to follow through with a goal you have set to improve your mental health, take 60 seconds and envision yourself completing the goal behavior.
If you have committed to practicing mindfulness as a wellness goal before you ever begin the mindfulness activity, take 60 seconds and imagine how it’s going to feel after you have completed the mindfulness activity.
Close your eyes and consider how much more relaxed you might feel and be fulfilled by your decision to follow through.
It’s important to try to experience the emotion of satisfaction and pride that you will feel from following through with the mindfulness exercise.
Believe it or not, the research shows that the 60 seconds you spend visualizing your success will help you defeat the power of instant gratification and follow through with what is important for the future self.
Create rituals to follow through with your mental health goals
Have you ever seen a baseball player enact a ritual before they hit a baseball?
It’s a fascinating process that most great hitters have mastered.
For example, a player might step into the batter’s box, hit his right cleat with the bat, hit his left cleat with the bat, point the bat toward centerfield, and then get into his batter’s stance.
Some players will replicate the same ritual over and over again because it provides a mindful way to initiate a very complicated behavior.
In the same way, we should all create mindful rituals that create a runway for us to follow through with our mental health goals for 2022.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the idea of actually doing yoga, especially if we’re tired from a long day.
The goal here is to create a ritual of several micro behaviors that proceed your first yoga pose.
For instance, always start your yoga session by pouring water into the same cup.
Then, put your yoga pants on and grab your yoga mat. Then, walk to the same room in your house and pull up the yoga session on your smart TV.
Before you choose your yoga video, take some deep breaths and relax your body sitting in an easy seated position on your mat.
A simple and consistent ritual like this takes the emotion, motivation and decision-making out of the process.
Your brain doesn’t need to waste any energy deciding what to do next.
All you have to do is simply follow the same pattern that you always do.
Following through with this roadmap will at least get us started on our mental health goals for 2022.
Hopefully, as we begin to follow through we can turn our desire to be less stressed, depressed and anxious into some very clear goals that will yield more peace and joy for all of us.
We’ve been through so much together over the past two years. Let’s make the decision that we will put in the hard work that will yield a happier, healthier, future self.
Dr. Mike Ronsisvalle is a Licensed Psychologist and the President of LiveWell Behavioral Health, a psychological services agency that provides counseling to clients of all ages and addictions treatment to adolescents and adults. You can find him on the web at www.LiveWellbehavioralhealth.com and www.LiveWell-Coaching.com, or call 321-259-1662.