Preparing to make your New Year’s resolution? Please stop and think twice before committing yourself to it. I’m probably too late to help anyone with a discussion of how the holiday season is fraught with people over-committing themselves. But, I’m hopefully not too late to help you think through your next New Year’s resolution. Not to mention, learn to approach goals in a more effective way throughout the year – especially if you are like those patients I’ve seen who expect so much from themselves that their life stories sound like a feature from Ripley’s Believe It or NotWoman breaks record for most hours of continuous motion. Not a good thing.

People often honestly don’t realize just how much they are doing and expecting of themselves. With little sleep, unhealthy eating, and expectations beyond what they would place on anyone else (ever), they question what’s wrong with them that they are so anxious or depressed. One reason for this is that they tend to overestimate their abilities – and then suffer the consequences when they expect too much of themselves; and are sometimes locked into commitments they cannot meet. In psychological jargon, their overly positive views of themselves are a self-enhancement bias. Although I’ve already written about this with regards to personal change in general, it bears repeating for this time of year.

Without realizing it, your too-high expectations might be setting you up to start the year off on the wrong foot – or at least, setting you up for a misstep. But you can counterbalance your inclination to be overly optimistic in “weak” areas through self-affirmations (thoughts about all the ways that you feel good about yourself and your life). Perhaps you pride yourself on being funny or generous. You might feel particularly talented at your job or in a hobby. Or, you might truly appreciate the family and friends who surround you. Once you have taken account of these things, you will probably feel good about yourself and have a sense of fulfillment. Because of this, you won’t feel as strong a need to deny or avoid acknowledging your limitations in other areas where you need to grow or develop. So, now is the time to look realistically at your New Year’s resolution.

As you make your resolution for the coming year (or even as you move through the year), help yourself out by considering these questions: 

  • Is my goal or resolution realistic?
  • Am I giving myself enough time to attain my goal?
  • Do I have a well thought out plan?
  • Am I prepared for the effort I will have to put in?
  • Do I have realistic expectations for how my life will change by achieving this goal?

This kind of forethought can make all the difference in attaining your goal. So, rather than you set yourself up for a fall, stop and think twice. Then go ahead and make resolution that you really can keep.

I wish you a happy -- and successful -- new year!

Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.

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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

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