By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
It’s that time again, when men and women everywhere set goals for the New Year… to be lighter, fitter, happier, more productive and more loving to others, among other things. Of course, these are all resolutions for any time, but they have now become engraved in our end-of-year psychodynamics when we all pay lip service to change ourselves in one way or another.
New Year’s Resolutions – They’re Not so New!
The making of New Year’s resolutions originates deep in history. The ancient Babylonians are alleged to have promised their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay off debts. The Romans made January the first month of the year, named after their god Janus, and also made promises. In the Medieval age, knights re-affirmed a commitment to chivalry at the end of the Christmas season.
In contemporary times, New Year’s resolutions tend to focus on the following themes:
- Becoming more physically fit
- Improving finances
- Improving health
- Losing weight
- Reading more and becoming more educated
- Improving work habits and career situations
- Traveling more
- Improving family relationships
- Doing more volunteer work
- Becoming more positive
That’s actually the order of how resolutions rank in popularity, according to a survey of 1,000 men and women conducted annually by FranklinCovey, a leading global retailer of planning and organizational accessories.
Most Goals for the New Year Are Not Met
Most resolutions to change in the New Year are forged with good intentions, but not with steel. The reality is that few manage to carry out what they say they will do. According to a 2007 survey by British psychologist Richard Wiseman, nearly 90 percent of those who establish goals for the New Year will fail, despite the fact that 52 percent are confident of success when they start. The discouraging stats are based on monitoring more than 3,000 people, for one year, who had committed to various resolutions, such as losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, and drinking less alcohol.
How to Achieve Goals
To be sure, it’s tough to break hard habits, especially if you lump a bunch of them together, Dr. Wiseman noted. He recommends the following to help you follow through with your resolutions:
- Make only one resolution and channel your energy into achieving it. Make it something important to you, and not just something others are doing. Ask yourself what is important in your life.
- Plan ahead and reflect on what you want to achieve and how. Be very specific and think it out.
- Avoid previous resolutions at which you failed. Choose something new or a new approach.
In my own life and from working with patients for decades I learned the following when it comes to New Year’s resolutions:
- Whatever you decide you want to do, make it public. Tell your friends and family members and also ask them for support. That injects more seriousness and incentive into your project.
- Never say never when it comes to a resolution. Example: I will never eat another sugary fudge brownie again. Instead, phrase it this way: I am going to cut out sugary fudge brownies but I may eat an occasional one.
- Make your starting time January first. Not a few days afterward, when you’re liable to be less resolve-oriented as you get back into a customary post-holiday routine.
- If you are trying to become fit, you may want to set your resolution at a lower bar, such as resolving to be more active in your daily life. That can mean something as simple as putting away your TV remote and getting up to change channels on the set, or making your bed, or taking five minute walks during the day, and slowly increasing the frequency. You don’t have to jump right into a gym if you think you’ll be unsuccessful.
- Cut yourself a bit of slack. You’re human, after all. Use “the three strike method.” Apply it to any resolution, whether you’re losing weight, quitting smoking, or giving up alcohol or sweets. It works like this:
1. If you lapse one day, don’t worry about it.
2. If you lapse the next day, shame on you, but you still have another chance.
3. If you lapse three days in a row, you’re out, and it’s over. Wait until next year and try again.
- FranklinPlanner.com, New Year’s Resolutions for 2013. Published online at http://getorganized.fcorgp.com/go/2012_vs_2013_new_years_resolutions
- Lehrer J. Blame It on the Brain: The latest neuroscience research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach. Published online at http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703478704574612052322122442
- Wiseman R. How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution. Published online at https://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/how-to-keep-your-new-years-resolution-2/
© 2015 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.