New Year, New You: How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Last
Published on January 8, 2015 by Staff Writer
Just as the New Year’s Eve ball drops in Times Square, we find ourselves dropping the ball on many of the resolutions we made in a frenzy of confetti and champagne glasses.
Every year, we promise ourselves that this will be the year we lose twenty pounds, give up smoking, earn that college degree or save money for retirement.
We vow to be a better parent and spend more time with our family. We convince ourselves that broccoli is delicious and should be a part of every meal.
In short, we eliminate everything that is bad for us and promise to make better choices.
That is, until about mid-January.
Somehow, life swoops in and manages to get in the way of what we had planned for ourselves. In a matter of weeks, we’re back to our old ways.
With nearly half of all Americans making New Year’s resolutions and only 8 percent managing to keep them, what’s the secret to making New Year’s resolutions stick?
Get comfortable with baby steps
No one expects us to get from A to Z in one giant leap, especially when there are 25 steps in between. As Bill Murray’s character learned from his psychiatrist in What About Bob?, big changes are made one baby step at a time.
We’re all creatures of habit whose complex webs of daily routines and internal programming have been formed and reinforced for years, even decades. Setting a goal that disrupts one of our ingrained habits will naturally take time and patience — the opposite of an overnight fix.
For example, losing weight is one such goal that requires a series of steps (sometimes in the form of a Stair Master) to accomplish. We do it by making small behavioral changes every day, such as eating healthier, exercising two or three times a week, joining a support group, avoiding situations where we may be tempted to overeat and so on.
Bottom line: Most goals cannot be achieved at the snap of a finger. Give yourself plenty of time and allow for setbacks.
Keep it real
Goals such as “buy a yacht” or “marry one of the Hemsworth brothers” (okay, maybe that’s just one of my goals) are not entirely realistic — at least not for most of us. Make sure your goals lie within the realm of possibility for your circumstances.
If you want to buy a new car, figure out how much you’ll need to save over a period of months in order to buy a car you can afford. Keep it within your budget so that it’s a reasonable pursuit. In other words, the Aston Martin might be better left to James Bond.
Similarly, a goal of becoming a veterinary technician is wonderful, and we all love the people who keep our pets healthy. But if you flunked out of college and aren’t making any strides to go back to school or learn about what it takes to become a vet tech, your goal might remain out of reach.
Bottom line: Be reasonable with what you’re willing and able to accomplish. Setting your sights too high may leave you frustrated and discouraged.
Focus on one goal at a time
Long lists of goals are great to work on throughout the year, but trying to do them all at once is going to prove difficult. Ian Newby-Clark, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Guelph in Canada, says that we each only have a limited amount of willpower, so it’s easy to understand why multiple resolutions aren’t likely to work.
Focus on one goal at a time so as not to overwhelm yourself with too many changes. Remember, ingrained habits are tough to break, so tackling too many at once might sap your energy and make you want to give up altogether.
Bottom line: Focus on one goal at a time before moving to the next one.
Remind yourself the glass is half full, not half empty
We face “glass half empty” scenarios all the time, and by simply reframing a situation to reflect what’s positive instead of what’s negative, we regain perspective on how much there is to be happy about.
For example, a person who is halfway through their college degree program could either get discouraged that they have several more semesters to take, or feel proud of how far they’ve come and let that optimism motivate them to keep going. Reality remains the same regardless. Which is the more productive frame of mind?
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy believes that one of the reasons some people keep their resolutions and others don’t has to do with staying positive.
“Some negative emotions are motivating, but for the most part, they’re not,” says Cuddy. “If you say, ‘I’m going to stop eating junk food,’ to use an example, you’re denigrating yourself before even getting started. You’re better off framing your goal as ‘eating healthier’ so that you’ll remain motivated and optimistic.”
If your feelings of negativity and discouragement are persistent, write down a list of all the things you’ve accomplished over the past few months or years. See? You have more willpower than you think!
Bottom line: Stay positive and always keep in mind how much you’ve accomplished.
Make a public commitment
Self-improvement programs know the power that accountability has in helping people follow through with their goals. From Weight Watchers to Alcoholics Anonymous, the act of telling other people our goals raises our chances of following through, since no one wants to be seen as weak-willed or wishy-washy.
Making a public statement on social media or to friends in person about a goal we want to achieve can help us make it happen. After all, our pride is on the line!
Bottom line: Tell people about your goals and let the sense of accountability work to your benefit.
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