New Year’s Eve is right around the corner. Are your friends and family declaring their resolutions yet? Are you? So many people see the new year as a time for change, a time to be a better person. I always think it’s wonderful when someone is ready to take charge of their own happiness and health. But all too often, New Year’s resolutions simply aren’t effective in changing behavior long term.
In fact, according to statistics from the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology a few years ago, only 8% of people are successful in following through on New Year’s resolutions long term. Another experiment in 2007 had similar results, with only 12% meeting their resolution goals by the end of the year.
According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology statistics, only about half of Americans usually make resolutions, and another 17% infrequently make them. It seems that perhaps people are realizing there’s a better way to meet your goals. An action plan helps make an idea reality, and having concrete steps to reach a goal works far better than thinking about the big picture all at once.
Still, there’s some evidence that making New Year’s resolutions does motivate people to succeed in solving problems. A 2002 study, also published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, showed that those who made resolutions around changing behavior (such as weight loss, exercise, and quitting smoking) were more successful six months in than those who did not.
So what is it about resolutions that make them so hard to stick to? And how can you take your initial desire to change and create long term results? Let’s take a look at these questions, and I’ll give you some tips to keep you on track throughout 2019 – and beyond!
Why Do So Many Resolutions Fail to Stick?
Did you make resolutions at the beginning of 2018? If so, can you remember what they were? Were you successful in meeting these goals for change? If not, do you know why? Let’s take a look at three big reasons resolutions fail, and then I’ll give you some hints on how to create an action plan for your resolutions to increase your chances of success this year.
1. Resolutions Are Unrealistic
At the end of each year, I hear women setting lofty goals. This year, they say, they’ll lose that extra 50 pounds, cut out all sweets, or hit the gym every single day. Here’s the problem with those kind of resolutions: your bad habits took years – maybe even decades – to form. So how realistic is it to think you can change them overnight?
If you haven’t been inside a gym in years, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to get yourself out there every day. If you’re addicted to sugar, tossing aside all desserts might prove impossible. So many women who say they’re going to make huge changes give up altogether when they hit the first bump. Instead of picking up where they left off, they think Maybe next year. Doesn’t that seem counterproductive? To give up for a whole year because you had a temporary setback?
It’s said that the ritual of New Year’s resolutions dates back to ancient Romans who promised the god Janus, deity of new beginnings, that they would behave better in the coming year. But new beginnings can happen any time, and I always remind women that any day is a good day for change. And small changes that stick are better than big ones that don’t!
2. Resolutions Are Too Vague
I also hear resolutions from women that aren’t at all specific. So many women talk about “eating healthy” or “exercising more.” But there is so much wiggle room in those statements that it’s nearly impossible to know if you’re following through.
It’s fun to celebrate achieving a goal, but without specifics, how will you know when it’s time? And how will you hold yourself accountable if you haven’t defined exactly what healthy eating means to you, how often you plan to exercise, or whatever end result you’re hoping for?
Even if your end goal is vague (like you want to live a healthier lifestyle), your resolutions will be much more effective if you’ve set clear, specific steps to get you there.
3. Resolutions Usually Don’t Look at the Underlying Issues
It’s all too easy for women to focus on the thing they want to change — their weight, the aches and pains they feel, low motivation or energy, skin issues, etc. — without looking at the big picture. But that often only sets you up to fail.
If you decide to lose 20 pounds, for instance, and jump right into a diet without figuring out what was behind your weight gain in the first place, the diet plan you choose might not be right for you. And if you’re overeating due to stress, but you don’t address what’s behind that stress, you’ll probably find yourself right where you started – with added stress because your resolution didn’t work. This is a recipe for disaster, and you could end up even farther from your goal than when you began!
Whatever you want to change, it’s essential that you take the time to really discover how the bad habits began, and commit to getting to the root of the issue.
Create a Plan for Success with These Tips
Now that you have some idea why those resolutions you’ve made in the past may have fallen by the wayside, it’s time to figure out how to take your resolution from thought to achievement. Try these simple steps to get you started.
Start By Examining Your Life
If you know what you’re dealing with ahead of time, you’ll have a much better chance of creating real, lasting change. There’s a reason you want to make resolutions, but the real problem may not be what you think it is. Instead of jumping in blindly to “fix” a problem, take the time to take a real close look at what created it in the first place, and what roadblocks you might encounter. Working through the problem with a professional can help you get to the real issues that you need to deal with. Only then can real change happen.
Choose One Thing to Focus on at a Time
I’ve talked to women who have a huge laundry list of things they want to change, and they want to change them all at once. I know that sometimes it can seem like nothing is working, and the “new year, new me” refrain we hear so often doesn’t help. I’m willing to bet there are plenty of things about who you are right now that are amazing. You don’t need a whole new you! Be gentle with yourself, and be sure to celebrate the good habits you already have before choosing something you’d like to change.
Women are so conditioned to multi-task that we think we need to handle self-improvement the same way we juggle motherhood, work demands, and our relationships. But just as making unrealistic resolutions can hinder progress, so, too, can making too many.
Once you’ve done the first step (examining your life honestly) you can make a “wish list” of things you want to work on. Then choose just one to tackle first. There’s plenty of time to work on the others, and success in one area is bound to create momentum.
Break Your Resolution into Manageable Steps
You might have a major goal in mind – perhaps you want to break your sugar addiction, have a better relationship, or lose 30 pounds. Get as specific as you can about this goal, but don’t get stuck in the trap of thinking it has to happen all at once. Change comes in small increments, and the steps you take to get there should be small as well. Instead of focusing on the end result, build smaller habits that will lead you there. Let’s take a look at an example:
Let’s say you want to eat healthier, and you’ve set an end goal to meet the USDA recommendation of eating 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit each day. If you’ve only been eating ½ to 1 cup per day combined, adding another 3 ½ or 4 cups might feel impossible. But one additional ½ cup serving per day probably feels doable. After you’ve consistently added that serving, add another, and another, until your goal is met.
Small steps are so much easier to wrap your head around, and these tiny specific goals can give you the motivation you need to continue. So go ahead – commit to taking the stairs each morning, writing just one page of the book you’ve always wanted to write, cutting out one dessert each week, or greeting your spouse at the door with a kiss. I think you’ll find it feels so good you’ll be eager to take the next steps!
Research has shown that accountability matters. When you set a goal and keep it to yourself, the only one who knows when you don’t succeed is you. But when you share your goals with a friend, seek out a support group, or join a class you may be more likely to follow through on what you say you’re going to do.
Better yet, ask a friend to join you. Social connections have been shown to boost happiness, and doing something with a friend is often more fun than going it alone.
Healthy Resolutions for the New Year and Beyond
Now that I’ve talked about some common problems with resolutions and some simple action steps, I’ll give you a few resolution ideas to boost for the new year. Make one of these the beginning of your path to a healthier you!
- Resolve to get the nutrients you need. Eating well is important, and there are so many small things you can do to begin. Start by avoiding fast food and processed foods. Find one new recipe each week to cook at home, using fresh organic vegetables. Add a new flavor to old favorites with spices like ginger and tumeric, which also have big health benefits. Add a high quality multivitamin to your daily routine to ensure that you’re getting all the essential vitamins and nutrients your body requires while you develop new eating patterns.
- Resolve to move more. Your body is the machine that moves you through life. We give our automobiles regular maintenance, but often forget that our body needs it too! Just like a car that sits too long, our bodies become sluggish and difficult to move if we don’t use them enough. But movement doesn’t have to be overwhelming – a simple walk around the block is a great place to begin. Or take the stairs instead of the elevator. It all counts, and once you begin you may find yourself with enough energy to just keep going!
- Resolve to get the rest you need. Sleep is so important to your overall well being. Move your bedtime up by fifteen minutes to start, or set your alarm for 15 minutes later in the morning. Turn your screens off just a little earlier each night to prepare for sleep. Develop a ritual like a hot cup of tea or a relaxing bath before bedtime.
This Year, Make Resolutions That Will Stick — All Year Long!
The new year is upon us. Don’t you want to make it your best year ever? Take some time to look at your life as a whole. What’s working? What isn’t? How can you take small steps all year long to make it better? Remember, you don’t have to change everything all at once – and you don’t have to give up if you falter. Start today, and if you stumble, pick yourself up and begin again. By this time next year you might just have the life you deserve – and no need for new year’s resolutions!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD