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It’s a new year and, like many people, you may have made some resolutions for 2018. It’s human nature to view the year ahead as a clean slate, a new chance for a fresh start, another opportunity to do better at everything from finances to fitness to family. The trouble is, despite the best intentions, many of us don’t follow through.

Those who achieve their New Year’s resolutions share their goals with people

A recent survey found that 41% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. Although those who make them are 10-times more likely to attain their goals, the overall success rate is relatively small. Only 9.2% of people felt successful in achieving their goals.

Why Do So Many People Have a Hard Time Keeping their Resolutions?

One New Year’s Resolution survey in Australia found that the first few months are critical to success. Eighty percent of those surveyed failed in the first three months. The most common reasons for failing a resolution are:

  • Setting impossible, unrealistic goals (i.e., unrealistic expectations concerning the ease, speed, likely degree of change, and presumed benefits of changing)
  • Not keeping track of progress.
  • Making too many resolutions.
  • Forgetting about the resolution.

Share Your Goals

One of the survey’s most interesting findings is that 76% of those who achieved their resolutions shared their goals with people. They believe this helped them reach them. But the fact is that most people have never shared their resolutions with others. This simple act of telling people can help with commitment and staying on track.

Dr. John Norcross, a clinical psychologist and author of Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions has attributed the following reasons for failed resolutions:

  • Lack of proper preparation and planning.
  • Not really being ready to change habits, especially bad habits, and merely making resolutions as a way of trying to motivate themselves.
  • Not being willing to actually take the steps necessary to create the change they keep telling themselves they want. It’s not enough to WANT to make the change; we actually have to put effort into making it happen.

Significant Changes to Lifestyle and Habit

Many of those who fail to keep their resolutions don’t comprehend that New Year’s resolutions are about significant changes to lifestyle and habit. These can be very difficult to accomplish. Instead, they suffer from what scientists call “false hope syndrome,” which occurs when one has unrealistic expectations of self-change. They approach making resolutions with the same level of thought that goes into ordering from a fast food menu.

When it comes to resolutions, we need to take into consideration that we are dealing with an elaborate belief system bolstered by an even more tricky set of defense mechanisms built in to protect us from ever actually making changes.

I was going to quit all my bad habits for the new year, but then I remembered that nobody likes a quitter. — Will Ferrell

By now we should all know that real success in accomplishing resolutions does not come quickly and easily. Resolutions involve us moving our goals from mere contemplation into more concrete action. That requires a good plan, dedication and really, truly trying.

Tips on How to Make Your Resolutions Work

The following checklist combines some of the critical ingredients for effective behavior change.

  1. Be ready for the change – Do you need time to prepare to attain your goals or to get into a new mindset necessary to tackle your aspirations? Are you truly ready to take action now?
  2. Resolutions should be realistic and specific – Those who are overly grandiose don’t work. True resolutions are measurable and have obvious marks of success. Specify when, where, and how you will achieve a specific goal. Short term goals, especially, should be set reasonably, and more realistically, than long term goals.
  3. Spread it out over the year – The latest neuroscience research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach. Many people quit because a goal is too big, requiring too much effort and action all at once. Take small steps. Split a big goal up into small goals. You know how good it feels to achieve each small goal. In order for these emotions to be motivational until the big goal is achieved, this good feeling has to be time-released. Instead of declaring that you will lose 50 pounds this year, set a goal of 2 pounds or exercising 3 times per week this month.
  4. Tell a few friends and family members – Preferably those who tend to be supportive and non-judgmental. Many social support groups exist because having the support of others is really helpful when trying to accomplish a difficult goal. Find an accountability buddy. Keep each other up to date on your progress and be quick to encourage, especially when encountering those inevitable bumps on the road.
  5. Use stimulus controlResearch shows that successful resolution-makers employed stimulus control strategies – for example, avoiding a smoky bar after resolving to quit smoking, or keeping chips out of the house. Unsuccessful participants tended to use “consciousness-raising strategies,” such as taping pictures of tar-blackened lungs to their walls.
  6. Expect Setbacks – Backsliding (See Ornish Living, Overcoming Backslides, Disappointments, and Self-Blame)
    is a universal experience. Every one of us resists significant change, no matter whether it’s for the worse or for the better. Making behavioral changes is always a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process. Most people equate backsliding with failure. They don’t realize that important learning can take place on the step back that will allow them to take two more steps forward. On the days when you feel like things just aren’t working out, try to find the lessons. Think constructively about setbacks. It is key to maintaining new habits.
  7. Track your progress – Set a regular schedule to check on your progress. This will help keep you on target.
  8. Be flexible and willing to revise your goals – You are bound to learn new things as you pursue a goal. This new wisdom makes us better at truly achieving our goals.
  9. Reward yourself and have fun – Celebrate your success after accomplishing a milestone. It’s a great way to increase your success rate. Don’t wait for the big goal to be finally completed.

Many lifestyle resolutions are long-term. It may take more than just a year to get to the spot where you want to be. Keep in mind that it’s human to mess up. The key is to not give up, even with a slip or two. Every day is a fresh start, and if you use it as a new opportunity to refocus and recommit to your goals, the results can be astonishing.

Contributed by

Bob Avenson
Senior Faculty - Group Support

Friendship is when people know all about you but like you anyway.

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