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As I pause to write this, I am reminded that the people I work with are in the process of trying to make positive changes in their lives. Indeed, this time of year most people have given at least passing thought to making changes or setting resolutions.

Here are eight tips that may help you add a little power to your resolutions and make them stick.

1. Set a realistic goal

Keep it realistic. Sometimes the goals that people speak of sound more like guilt topics than realistic change plans. It is common for people who are depressed, for example, to be preoccupied with shoulds like “I should be more [blank]” or “I should be less [blank]” or “I shouldn't do [blank].” A good goal is not just a vague intention or expression of guilt. Rather, a good goal is one that is relevant and that has a reasonable chance for success. For perfectionists who set unrealistic, high goals for themselves I like to have them consider steps or objectives that are shorter term and to consider working towards one of those objectives.

2. Have a plan

A wise person once said that a goal without a plan is just wishful thinking. You can significantly increase the power of your goal by actually working out a plan as to exactly how you're going to reach your goal. Include in your plan what steps you will take, where and how you will take these steps, and how you will cope with challenges such as cravings.

Here is an all too frequent scenario: A patient or other health care professional tells me someone has been seen by a Psychologist. I check out their credentials. It turns out the person is not, in fact, a real Psychologist.

But does it really matter? As with most jurisdictions around the world, Ontario has laws that regulate certain activities and professions, including the profession of Psychology. These laws exist to protect the public. In particular, they do so in two ways: (1) by ensuring that only qualified individuals practice the profession; and (2) by creating a means of holding licensed individuals accountable to specific, high standards. This is similar to reasons for government regulation of driver's licenses in that it protects us by keeping unqualified drivers off the road and by setting rules and standards for licensed drivers.

It gets even more important. Health law specifies who is and is not permitted to perform certain risky activities. In Ontario, these high risk activities are known as controlled acts and giving someone a diagnosis is one of these. Because of the risks from being given a wrong diagnosis, many people who offer counselling or psychotherapy are not permitted to give you a diagnosis. In fact, not even all regulated or licensed health professions in Ontario are legally allowed to give you a diagnosis. Psychologists are one of the very few professions that are able to do so.