Tips for Making (and Keeping!) New Years Resolutions - Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

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Published on December 26, 2016

Making (and Keeping!) New Years Resolutions

Research has found that only 64 percent of New Year's resolutions are maintained after one month and, six months later, less than half still stand.

Why the swift breakdown?

"Research tells us that people who successfully maintain their New Year’s resolutions employ a number of strategies,” said Dr. Christopher Adams, Clinical Psychologist at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare – St. Francis. "Merely making a resolution isn’t enough. While making a resolution can initially be very energizing, it can be difficult to sustain that positive energy without a specific plan. It becomes even more challenging when people get distracted by daily stressors or busy schedules.”

One of the biggest problems with most resolutions, Adams said, is that the goals are too broad and don’t include specific, incremental steps.

"If your goal is to quit smoking, for example, start by picking a specific day to begin to quit and a concrete, achievable goal such as reducing the number of cigarettes smoked by five per week. After maintaining this goal for several weeks, build on your success and reduce the number again. Also, be sure to provide yourself with ample incentive or reward for each step along the way.”

"It is definitely better to set small, concrete goals and allow yourself time to practice and integrate the changes," agreed Twila Pearson, APNP. She states that people need to keep in mind what the research shows about behavioral change – maintaining new habits requires at least six months. During this period, it is also normal to have setbacks that can feel discouraging.

However, people should not lose hope if they find themselves backsliding on resolutions about a quarter of the way through the year. To get back on track, Pearson and Adams said, people should not be harsh with themselves. Instead, it is healthy to honestly ask, “What stopped me and how can I do it differently?” Often the answer is as simple as asking someone to participate with you.

Other Suggestions

Structure strictly

Resolutions are much easier to follow when the steps to achieve them are clearly spelled out and become a part of one’s daily structure or routine. This is why Pearson encourages people to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound).

“Goals should be spelled out,” Pearson states. “Saying that you will get to the gym three times a week is a good goal but it is too vague. Instead say ‘I will use the treadmill for X number of minutes.’ It’s also a good idea to consult a trainer to create a regimen that is realistic and results-oriented.”

Ink It

Writing down goals once you identify them can help ensure sticking to them. According to Dr. Adams, “Writing down goals can enhance goal attainment. Those who take it a step further and write down specific behavioral action commitments are even more likely to achieve success.”

Make it Public

Up the ante by telling loved ones, friends, co-workers and even your Facebook friends what you plan to accomplish, Adams recommended. Faced with embarrassment if you fail, this kind of kick in the pants is an effective psychological tool, he said.

“Research shows that when you announce your plans for change to others, this can increase the likelihood that you will stay on track,” said Adams. “When others provide support and encouragement, this positive reinforcement can be quite powerful.”

Set 'Proximal' Goals

So-called proximal goals are more realistic simply because they set the bar lower -- like aiming for a half-pound of weight loss a week instead of two pounds. But success is also more frequent and tangible.

"If you resolve to run a marathon," Adams said, "start by going for a jog two or three times per week. If you want to eat healthier, begin by replacing some of your favorite junk foods with more nutritious foods. While it might seem like a slow way to start, these small incremental changes will make it easier to stick to new habits and increase the likelihood of long term success.”

Plan for Failure

Many resolutions get derailed because of small, potentially temporary setbacks that compel us to chuck our big plans altogether. Going off a diet at a party, for example, doesn't mean you can't get right back on the wagon the next day, with little damage done.

“Encountering a setback is one of the most common reasons why people abandon their New Year’s resolutions,” Pearson said. “But reverting back to old behavior happens and should not be viewed as a failure. It is actually an important learning opportunity. I recommend writing down when the setback happened and what might have triggered it. By understanding challenges and triggers, people are better prepared to deal with them going forward.”

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Making (and Keeping!) New Years Resolutions