From Biosis 14, January 2007
You Say You Want a Resolution…: Making Good on Your New Year’s Resolve
Did you make any resolutions for the upcoming year? Are you following through?
Of course, making New Year’s resolutions is a lot easier than keeping them. While most of us do pretty well for the first few weeks, over the long haul, most of us fail.
And what do we fail at? Mostly, improving our health. One University of Washington study found that 37% of those surveyed had resolved to exercise more, while 13% vowed to improve their diet and 7% swore to cut down on tobacco, alcohol, drugs or caffeine. Because these behaviors impact our well being so greatly, we’d do well to look at how we can improve our odds of success any time we decide to create positive change – not just at the start of a new year.
Plan…and Plan to Keep It Simple
A lot of us make our resolutions at the last minute. We make them emotionally rather than thoughtfully. Consider in advance what changes you want to make, then map out the steps you’ll take to achieve them. What do you want to happen and how will you make it happen? Think about the changes you will need to make in your daily routine. Develop strategies for dealing with temptation. Don’t make a laundry list of everything you want to change. Keep things manageable. Make no more than three resolutions, and then prioritize them.
Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose weight this year,” say something like, “I’m going to lose five pounds each month,” or “I’m going to reduce one clothing size by June.” Instead of, “I’m going to exercise more,” try, “I’m going to go to the gym three evenings each week,” or, “I’m going to walk each evening after work.” This will help you visualize your success – a proven strategy for achievement. It will also help you answer that question of how you will reach your goals.
Not a Zero-Sum Game
A lot of us tend to think of our behaviors as all or nothing, especially when it comes to resolutions. If we stumble, we may say, “Well, I blew it. I might as well forget about it!” This is like the addict who thinks that even a sip of alcohol means her sobriety is totally ruined and then uses that as permission to go on an all-out bender: “My sobriety is gone. I might as well get all the way drunk.” This is extremist thinking. If you stumble, the sensible thing to do is acknowledge it, figure out what caused the setback, then change what needs to be changed so that it doesn’t happen again. Don’t beat yourself up. As the old song goes, “Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start all over again.”
Mark the milestone dates on your calendar: the monthly anniversaries of the start of your new behaviors or days when you expect to reach your goal. On those days, treat yourself to a little gift or just the luxury of spending time doing something you love. This will reward you and serve and incentive for continuing the positive behavior. If you are quitting a negative behavior, it can also help to keep track of the money you save. For instance, if you’’re a pack-a-day smoker, quitting can save you from $135 to $150 or more each month. Kicking a daily Starbucks habit can save you just as much – or more, depending on the size of drink and how much syrup, sugar and cream you like to add to it. (You may also lose weight, as some Starbucks drinks can exceed 700 calories. Add a muffin and you’ve got well over half the recommended daily intake for the average woman in a single “snack”!)
There’s Always Next Year
Sometimes we make resolutions before we’re ready to commit to fulfilling them – only we don’t quite realize it until we fail. Often this comes from making resolutions based on what will please others or what’s expected of us. But success only comes from self-investment: it’s got to matter to you. And maybe now’s not the right time. but you can still look ahead to the future. Think about why you’re not ready – and what it will take for you to be ready to make the change. You can then start preparing to resolve for the next New Year (or new month, or new day – who says New Year’s is the only time for resolutions?). Then, get ready to succeed.