How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

So you have lofty goals for 2011.  Lose weight, quit smoking, and stick to a budget are a few of the most common New Year’s resolutions.  Some lists include:  reduce clutter, drink less alcohol, exercise, and potty train baby.  The passage into a new year requires adjustments, like putting up a new calendar and writing a new date on our checks.  January 1 fosters the feeling of a new beginning, a fresh start.  We write in our new planners (or type in our new digital devices) and put our holiday decorations away.  It’s a time to reflect on the previous year and give ourselves a report card.  We sometimes feel compelled to make some sort of resolution because everyone else seems to be doing it or talking about it. 
Researchers found only about 12% of people surveyed accomplished their resolutions.  Many of you give up on the whole resolution idea after  several discouraging years of failed attempts to change.  Changing ingrained habits is hard work.  Some of us just give up on the idea that we’ll ever be physically fit, fiscally fit or neat and tidy.  We can all learn something from that 12% who achieve their goals.  If they can do it so can the rest of us.

Men and women motivate themselves differently.  Men tend to visualize goals better, but don’t get as emotionally invested in them like women tend to do.  Women achieve goals better when they’ve enlisted the encouragement and support of others.  Women tend to set ambitious goals, but often procrastinate.  Men who set goals that were specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based,  (SMART) succeeded.  For example, a man who sets a goal to save $25 per week (by making his own lunch instead of eating out), found he could attain that goal.  Specific, measurable goals work better than just saying, “I want to save money.”

Successful women obtained the encouragement of others to help them keep trying after small failures.  For example programs like Weight Watchers work well for weight loss because they include measurable eating, exercise and support goals to keep you focused and aware of your behavior.  When you back slide, say gain a couple of pounds, you just get back on the program again and make progress.

To succeed like the 12% use the following proven techniques for change:

  • Pick only one goal, your top priority, the one you care about the most.
  • Research proven ways to accomplish that goal.
  • Create a clear vision of that goal.  Make a collage, create a picture of your accomplished goal.
  • Make a plan to combat normal obstacles to change.  For example, if you get discouraged, identify where you can get encouragement.
  • Give yourself realistic deadlines, such as “lose one pound per week.”
  • Evaluate your progress and reevaluate your strategy at regular intervals.

It helps to remind yourself of times in your life when you successfully made changes.  Tell yourself, “If I could adjust to a new job, I can adjust to a new exercise schedule.”  Promise yourself a reward if you achieve a significant benchmark, “I get a new suit after I lose 25 pounds.”  If you screw up, fall off the wagon, pig out, fail, join the human race.  We all do it.  In fact successful people fail more than than average person.  The successful person tends to keep going after failure.  So plan to fail, and fail, and fail, until you succeed.  You can do it.  Happy New Year!