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Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA

Making New Year's Resolutions That Last - Part 1

Tips to increase the likelihood of success

BrianAJackson/DepositPhotos
Source: BrianAJackson/DepositPhotos

New Years is the time of year that’s universally associated with resolution making. Although most people go through the annual ritual of identifying the things they are determined to change, almost 90% of all resolutions get broken or forgotten by Valentine’s Day. In theory, taking the time to take stock and committing to bettering yourself is a great thing to do. However, setting yourself up to fail by falling short can have a debilitating effect, leave you feeling disempowered, and compromise your self-esteem. It’s worth exploring why resolutions fail so you can go about the process in a different way. After working as a therapist for over 31 years, I’ve noticed several recurring themes that seem to contribute to the dissolution of resolutions. Here are a few tips that can increase the likelihood of following through with those New Year’s vows.

Make the resolution specific.
If you’re like most people, your resolutions are probably too vague. Vowing to “lose weight,” “be a better person,” “work harder” or “take better care of yourself” might sound lofty but when the goals are not specific or measurable, it’s hard to know when you’ve actually achieved them, and therefore, easier to abandon them. All of the above examples represent “themes” rather than specific goals. If, instead, you change the resolutions to “lose 5 pounds,” “volunteer once a month at a soup kitchen,” “devote an extra hour a week to my job” or “go to sleep two hours earlier once a week,” you are far more likely to succeed.

Make the resolution smaller .
Chunking down a goal into smaller, more manageable pieces always makes it easier to achieve. Ironically, if you start smaller and reach that goal it gives you the motivation to build on it. And in the end, the cumulative effect makes your accomplishment even bigger. Since the goal of weight loss is typically the most common resolution, set yourself up to succeed by starting with the goal of 2 pounds rather than 20 and add 2 more pounds every time you achieve that goal. And remember to celebrate each baby step along the way- that’s often the best way to reinforce new behavior.

Make the resolution doable .
When you look for ways to make changes or improvements in your life, put those potential new behaviors in the context of your current life. Is it really doable to commit to 10 hours a week in the gym given your other obligations? It’s important to be honest and realistic about your life circumstances. Make goals that resonate with the actual amount of time, financial resources, relationship and workplace obligations, and emotional support you currently have in your life. The secret is to identify a goal you really can achieve, not one that sounds great but in actuality is unattainable.

What tactics do you believe are valuable in helping people to stay on track with their resolutions?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, to be published next week.

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