Reasonable, Responsible, and Realistic Resolutions after TBI by Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Brain Injury Blog

Reasonable, Responsible, and Realistic Resolutions for Improvement after TBI

by  Donna O’Donnell Figurski

What’s your plan for improvment?

Celebrate your goals for improvement

Celebrate your goals for improvement

New Year’s Day has passed. A new year is always a time of renewal – a time to look back on the past year and make positive commitments for the upcoming year. As humans, we seem to strive for improvement, to make life better. The new year is a good time to correct old mistakes and to look to the future and make new plans for improvement.

I think this topic of improvement is appropriate now, as we look back on the past months to determine if we are honoring our New Year’s resolutions. Did we, in fact, make reasonable, responsible, and realistic resolutions?

Lace up those sneakers and move!

Lace up those sneakers and move!

It feels like the whirlwind of the holidays happened eons ago, and yet it’s just been two months. If you are like most of the population, you probably made resolutions on New Year’s Day – promises to yourselves that you would do something in your life to better it. In the days after the New Year’s celebration, you will see more people in the gym or running through the streets – maybe decked out in new running clothes to increase their motivation. You might hear folks talking about the new diet they are going to try to lose those unwanted pounds. Some folks vow to stop smoking or drinking, or at least they intend to cut down. Folks promise to take more time for family or friends, save money, travel more. The list goes on and on. Usually these resolutions are good intentions for the year that last maybe a week or two – perhaps even a month – but for whatever reason or reasons – time, lack of interest or motivation – many of these good intentions fall by the wayside.

Each new year, I usually make the resolution to exercise more for improvement.

I start off okay, but not long after New Year’s Day is past, the motivation starts to wane. Lack of time, or more like “inability to properly manage time,” is a big factor for me. I seem to be always too busy with tons of projects, most of them involving writing. I work daily on my blog. I spend hours preparing my radio show. I’m writing articles for publication, and, of course, I have to write a lot of query letters to agents and publishers as I try to sell my book, “Prisoners Without Bars: A Caregiver’s Story.” It seems that the only things that ever get any exercise are my brain … and my fingers as they fly over the keyboard. Uh, did I say “fly”? I meant more like “stumble.” Most of my projects have deadlines – if not actual ones, then at least self-imposed ones. So, due to my over-commitments, this year I chose not to make any resolutions that I know I will not keep. Not keeping my resolutions only makes me feel like a failure, and that is not productive. I bet a lot of people fall into this category.

Improvement starts with small steps.

Improvement starts with small steps.

Folks with a brain injury are continually working toward improvement of their lives, and New Year’s resolutions may seem even more important. Brain-injured people are used to taking small steps, but the temptation for New Year’s resolutions may be to try to do too much.

I’m going to discuss how to keep interest up and to make it possible to reach the goals of reasonable, responsible, and realistic resolutions – resolutions that are made and altered throughout the year for ongoing improvement.

Do You Enjoy Your Goal?

Don’t have a goal you will never want to do. That’s a recipe for disaster. Is your resolution such a chore that you can easily find any excuse to NOT do it? If you’d rather clean toilets than complete your resolution, then perhaps you should reassess your plan. I can pretty much guarantee that you will not be successful and that lack of success is certainly going to instill feelings of failure. I think a big part of being successful in keeping a resolution is to give the goal plenty of thought first.

Decide How You Will Implement Your Goal for Improvement

Find the routine that works for you.

Find the routine that works for you.

If you want to get more sleep and go to bed earlier, then set an alarm for 30 minutes before your desired bedtime so you can start your bedtime preparations. If you want to always remember where your keys are, put a hook on the wall and ALWAYS hang your keys there. You will never have to search your home again for keys. Following a routine makes life easier. That goes for anything. Also, use available tools (calendar, Post-It notes, smart phone, etc.) to help you keep organized.

Keep a Track Record

Track progress toward improvement in a notebook.

Track progress toward improvement in a notebook.

By keeping a record of your accomplishments, you are setting yourself up for success and for improvement. You could keep a record in a journal-like notebook. Simply write the date at the top of the page, and write what you accomplished that day (e.g., Sit-ups – 5 minutes; Meditated – 10 minutes). You could also simply use a calendar dedicated just to your resolution and write your activity under each day that you do it. If you are computer savvy, you could keep a spreadsheet. Place the days in the left column; list the activities across the top. Then just put a checkmark in the box corresponding to day and activity. That would be the way I would do it.

I like to see my progress toward improvement. It motivates me. I enjoy seeing how well I am doing – or NOT doing, so that I can readjust and improve. It may work for you too.

Be Patient – Your Goal for Improvement Will Not Be Accomplished Overnight

Your success will not happen overnight. It will take time. You may even become lax at times, but don’t worry. The record keeping that we spoke of above will help to get you back on track.

small weightsBefore his brain injury in 2005, my husband, David, used to do a half hour of his version of Tai Chi every morning. He’d run twenty miles each week, and he’d regularly lift small weights to strengthen his arms. He was fit and healthy. He exercised not only for his health, but also to leave the stress of his laboratory behind. David’s disabilities are all physical, including severely compromised balance, which makes him unable to run. He regrets this, but he has turned his attention to the treadmill – with its handrails – for exercise. He has also recently acquired a recumbent trike, which allows him to pedal away on his own with no danger of falling. None of this was possible when David first arrived home from the hospital. He was confined to wheelchair and bed. He could not even stand unassisted. It was a slow process – one that he has worked on over the past eleven years, but with small steps and small increments of exercise, he is gaining his strength and his independence.

So, no matter what your goal is, BE PATIENT. Reach for the stars, but remember, it will take time for improvement.

Be Flexible

If you choose a goal that you find is not appropriate – it’s too hard, it’s too easy, or you are not enjoying it – QUIT IT! It’s your life, and you can make the choices. Because you are a brain-injury survivor, I am sure there are many goals you would like to accomplish. Make new resolutions. (It doesn’t have to be a new year.) And, mix it up.

If you are not seeing the progress you want – for whatever reason, choose something else to work on. You can always come back and try again later. That’s why I encourage you to make reasonable and realistic resolutions. You want success to be imminent.

Once David tried a form of therapy on the recommendation of a friend who insisted that it helped her greatly, and, in fact, it did help her. David tried it for quite a long time and dedicated himself to it, but found it tedious and boring. He soon quit and set his sights on something more enjoyable that was not going to make him miserable. That’s where the flexibility comes in. Do what works for you.

Try Something New

Tai Chi GroupI mentioned earlier to “mix it up.” That’s not a bad idea for anyone. If boredom sets in, your chance of success will fall greatly. You won’t reach your proposed goal, and you will become disenchanted with the activity. The feelings of failure are right behind. So, don’t put yourself in that position. Make a new resolution, and try something different. It can be something different that is still familiar, or it can be something so different that you have never done it before.

I want to go back to the story of David’s recumbent trike. In his adult life, he never rode a bicycle. As I mentioned, his preferred method of exercise was to run. When that was no longer a viable exercise mode, he turned to a recumbent trike. That has changed his post-brain-injury life. Before the trike, David was unable to leave the house alone. Now he can leave whenever he wants to. He is able to go to the garage, get on his trike, ride for several hours, and return. (The only thing he cannot do is get off the trike anywhere else because his balance issues do not allow him to walk freely outdoors.) So, try something you have never done before. Maybe you always wanted to draw or paint. Do it.

Have a Buddy for Support

You may want to exercise with a buddy. Exercise can be much easier with a friend. I much prefer walking and talking or treading water in the deep end of a pool and talking or rotating through the machines in the gym and talking. Are you seeing a pattern here? I find exercising with a friend much more enjoyable than exercising alone. No matter what your goal is, if you can do it with someone else, it makes the exercise easier. It also adds an element of accountability. If you have made plans with a friend, you are more likely to meet your goal.

For most survivors with brain injury, life has drastically changed. The kinds of resolutions that you may have made before your brain injury are now more than likely impossible to attain. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t set goals that you can successfully achieve. The gym may be out of the question, but you can set aside some moments at home for leg lifts, small weights, push-ups, stepping-in-place, etc. You can do anything to keep your body fit.

Each brain injury is different. The disabilities that accompany each brain injury are wide and varied. For some folks, the injury entails only cognitive/learning disabilities or emotional issues. For others, the brain injury might include physical disabilities.

So basically, you want to assess what you can do to improve your life while not being miserable. You want to make resolutions that can fit into your lifestyle. You don’t want to set your goals so high that they cannot be achieved. But, if you set your goals too high, change them. Make your resolutions reasonable, responsible, and realistic and make them any time of the year. Most of all, make them FUN!

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