A DBT-Informed New Year: Building Mastery to Achieve Your Goals in 2024
About the author: Katie Anderson, CSW-PIP is a Psychiatric Social Worker at the Human Services Center (HSC). Anderson provides clinical therapy services and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Skills in HSC’s Adolescent Program. In her spare time, she enjoys running and gardening.
The New Year is a new beginning filled with opportunity, inspiration, and optimism. Folks often set ambitious resolutions with good intentions of getting a fresh start in the New Year. After all, it can be exciting to use that motivation to amp ourselves up for a big challenge! While there is certainly nothing wrong with having enthusiasm for personal growth, the momentum unfortunately tends to fade as the year progresses. In fact, a variety of studies have estimated that nearly 80% of New Years resolutions are given up by February. Maybe you’re already experiencing this by the time you’re reading this article in mid-January. Or maybe you’ve avoided setting a resolution this year for that reason!
Why do so many of us forego our New Years resolutions? When we adopt the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mindset on January 1, it does not leave much room to give ourselves grace. Ambitious goals can become a daunting source of stress when we settle back into our day-to-day routines. And when we slip up on those big resolutions, that type of polarized mindset may tempt us to throw in the towel and leave us feeling disappointed in ourselves again. Unfortunately, goals that are rooted in shame and guilt rarely result in lasting changes.
So, are all resolutions just futile efforts? No, this is luckily not the case. New Years resolutions can still be achievable with the right approach. One way to do this is by using the ‘Build Mastery’ skill. The concept of Building Mastery originates from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a mental health treatment approach developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan. DBT provides a variety of skills to help individuals regulate their emotions and create “a life worth living”.
Building Mastery means scheduling doable tasks that make you feel effective and capable of getting things done. Over time, a series of accomplishments leads to increased self-efficacy. Not only is this strategy helpful for achieving goals, but it is also an important component of treating depression. Dr. Linehan indicates that the Build Mastery skill can be a “line of defense against helplessness and hopelessness”. Feeling competent prepares you for difficult challenges, which can be especially helpful when feeling disheartened by New Years resolutions. Below are three guidelines for Building Mastery adapted from Dr. Linehan’s DBT Manual:
1) Do at least one thing per day.
Lasting benefits are the result of many small, incremental changes. Ask yourself, what slight change would make the smallest noticeable difference? These actions are sometimes referred to as ‘micro-steps’. Want to become an avid reader in 2024? Start with 15 minutes of reading per day, every day. It may seem like micro-steps aren’t significant enough to make a difference; However, small successes are the catalyst for big changes. For example, just 15 minutes of daily reading is tipping point for increased reading achievement and growth in students, according to the world’s largest annual study of K-12 students (Renaissance Learning, 2023). Think of this approach as a domino effect for personal growth.
2) Choose something that is challenging, but possible.
As Dr. Linehan notably states, “Lives of failure are lives where expectations are too high”. It is important to balance challenge and achievability by choosing goals that will be attainable given your circumstances. If your goal is to become a marathon runner, it may be tempting to jumpstart your training with high-mileage workouts; however, if your current weekly schedule does not involve exercise, starting with a 5-mile run may be an unrealistic starting point. Make sure to acknowledge your current fitness level without self-judgement when setting a new fitness goal. Self-improvement can co-exist alongside self-acceptance.
3) Gradually increase difficulty.
Once you’ve consistently accomplished 15 minutes of daily reading, increase it to 20 minutes per day. Once you’ve mastered running one mile with ease, practice running two miles. Building confidence in our capabilities helps us be more resilient to discomfort. I’ve personally experienced this by implementing a 10-minute nightly cleaning routine. Although 10 minutes may seem insignificant, now 20 or 30 minutes of cleaning doesn’t seem so daunting when I’m already accustomed to setting a timer for at least 10 minutes of cleaning every night. There are endless opportunities for growth when you build mastery with micro-steps of progress.
By challenging ourselves in these small ways every day, we can move closer towards achieving our goals in the New Year. And most importantly, self-improvement is always best achieved when balanced with self-acceptance. I wish you good mental health, much personal growth, and great success in 2024!
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT skills training handouts and worksheets (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press. Renaissance Learning. (2023). What kids are reading: 2023 edition. https://www.renaissance.com/wkar
The mission of the Human Services Center (HSC) is to provide individuals with a mental health or substance use disorder or both with effective, individualized professional treatment enabling them to achieve their highest level of personal independence in the most therapeutic environment.
The mission of the Division of Behavioral Health is to strengthen and support children, youth and adults with behavioral health needs through prevention and early interventions services, community-based substance use disorder and mental health services, crisis care and recovery support services and psychiatric hospitalization. The goal of the continuum of behavioral health services is to foster independent and healthy individuals and families in South Dakota.
To read previous editions of the Mental Health Memo visit https://dss.sd.gov/keyresources/news.aspx#mhmemo.