|As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of the next, there are countless articles about how almost everyone makes some New Year’s resolutions and how almost nobody keeps them. Statistics show we are good at following our goals for the new year about 75 percent of time – but only for about two weeks. Then our willpower plummets.
That doesn’t mean resolutions are bad. And it doesn’t mean they are impossible to keep. In fact, some experts say the new year is the perfect time to evaluate what you want to change and to set new goals. The key is come up with resolutions that are realistic and actually fit into your lifestyle and personal value system. "What we need is to look deep inside, really know who we are and what we want out of life, and then put plans together," says Marlene Gonzalez, a life coach from Chicago.
University of Washington researchers who have studied the subject of why New Year’s resolutions succeed or fail for several decades suggest these strategies for successful resolutions:
- Have a strong initial commitment to make a change.
- Have coping strategies to deal with problems that will come up.
- Keep track of your progress. The more monitoring you do and feedback you get, the more likely you’ll succeed.
The same researchers also have found these sure-fire ways to set yourself up for failed resolutions:
- Don’t think about making resolutions until the last minute.
- React on New Year's Eve and base resolutions on what's bothering you at that time.
- Word your resolutions as absolutes by saying you will "never" or "always" do a certain thing.
Getting there from here
New Year’s resolutions that work can become a guide for creating a healthier, happier, more productive 2012. According to EduGuide, a nonprofit organization which has developed an online community (EduGuide.org) that helps people discover and "fine tune" goals or resolutions, finding New Year’s Resolutions you can stick to is a two-step process: first reflect on your deeply held beliefs, values, and strengths; then decide on resolutions that support and promote them.
Here are ten New Year’s resolutions to consider making part of your daily life, with tips on why and how to keep them:
- I’m going to eat a healthier diet by adding at least one vegetable and fruit dish to my daily meals. By eating more fruits and veggies, you are adding fiber (decreasing the risk of several health problems, including colon cancer) and health-building phytonutrients to your diet. It’s also a resolution you are more likely to keep than one that declares, "I will never eat fast food or pepperoni pizza again!"
- I am going to satisfy my sweet tooth with fruit smoothies, all fruit popsicles and low fat yogurt. If you are an ice cream addict, this is more realistic than declaring "I will never eat ice cream again". By framing a resolution in a way that gives you something instead of taking something away forever, experts say you are more likely to succeed.
- I will increase my fitness by exercising regularly, 3 times a week for 20 minutes. If you follow this plan (which is much easier to stick to that declaring you will work out an hour a day) and need to lose weight, you probably will. One way to up the chances of success is to enlist a friend to go walking or to work out with you. Keep track of your progress in a journal and make an "appointment" with yourself to exercise. Avoid enthusiastic but self-defeating goals that are most likely impossible, such as "I’m going to lose 50 pounds by spring!"
- I will take care of my health by scheduling preventative health tests and a check-up. Instead of saying you will get a mammogram or colonoscopy sometime in 2012 if you are due for these, other tests or a physical in the coming year, go ahead and make the appointment in January – even if the actual date of your tests or checkup is many months away.
- I will take charge of my finances by making an appointment with my CPA or financial advisor to go over my budget, investments and debts. Taking a proactive, tangible step to help you reach financial goals has a much better chance of success than announcing "I will pay off all my credit card debt by August!" and hoping you are able to reign in expenses.
- I will schedule _________ (fill in the blank with a specific day of the week, such as "Saturday night") to regularly spend quality time with my family, spouse or significant other. Just wanting and hoping to have "date nights" with your partner or more family nights watching movies with your kids isn’t the same thing as making these concrete goals scheduled on your calendar.
- I will make an appointment with my healthcare professional in January to help me with strategies to quit smoking. While smoking is a well-known health risk, it is still a problem for millions of people who can’t or won’t quit – and government statistics show smoking cessation remains one of the most commonly made New Year’s resolutions. If you’ve tried to quit before and failed, talk to your doctor about medication or other ways to help. Also, enlist the support of friends and family as part of a solid, realistic plan to break the cigarette habit. Use the Internet to read up on the health benefits of not smoking and picture yourself feeling and being healthier when you are tobacco-free.
- I am reducing stress in my life, including stress at work, by taking these specific steps. You will need to fill in the next part of this resolution with concrete examples, such as signing up for a yoga class, setting up a meeting to discuss work problems with your manager, scheduling breaks on the job to take brief walks and recharge – whatever works for you. Just saying "I will not have so much stress" has little real meaning. The key is to consider the stresses in your life and come up with a plan to ease them.
- I will volunteer to help others by ________. Despite the economic ups and downs of the last few years, U.S. government statistics show Americans are still big on volunteerism. But just wanting to help those less fortunate isn’t a resolution that you’ll necessarily keep – no matter how good your intentions. Make a plan and put it in motion in January. For example, call to find out when the Salvation Army or another charity makes regular pick-ups of donations in your neighborhood and get on their call list so you can donate clothes, books and more several times a year (it’s a great way to de-clutter, too!). Or contact your church, synagogue or local school to sign up for volunteer activities that appeal to you.
- I resolve to not beat myself up if I don’t succeed with all my New Year’s Resolutions. As the poet Robert Burns, author of "Auld Lang Syne," wrote: "The best laid plans o' mice and men often go astray." Resolve to do your best and accept that 2012, like all years, will bring everyone some unexpected changes, good and bad. Be kind to yourself, stay focused and enjoy the adventures ahead!