Don’t Give Up on New Year’s Resolutions

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Struggling with your New Year’s resolutions? That’s typical a week or two into trying to make a change. Feelings of frustration and fear of failure can surface, tempting you to give up. Don’t. Learn how people who ultimately succeed push past this point.

People who overcome the challenges of change take time to periodically review their performance. Here are the questions to ask yourself about your efforts to date:

1. What conditions have enabled you to have some success toward accomplishing your resolution?
2. What circumstances have derailed your efforts?
3. How well have you done at scheduling enough time to work on your goal?
4. How are you doing at encouraging yourself v. allowing self-criticism to undermine your motivation?

Mary, for example, had resolved to walk almost every day. She has gone for 3 walks over the past 11 days, but that’s far fewer than she’d hoped. In answering the 4 questions, Mary realized that she did walk when she got a friend to join her. There was a cold rain for a few days, and she just couldn’t bring herself to brave the bad weather. Then she had some days that were very busy and she was too tired at the end of the day. Now her inner critic is dominating her self-talk, discouraging her with thoughts about never having been any good at establishing an exercise routine.

After reflecting on their performance, successful people use three improvement strategies to modify their behavior: personal, behavioral, and environmental. Personal strategies involve interpreting the information gleaned from the review:

a. What have you learned about your goal setting? Did you set specific measures for what success would look like? Were your expectations too high for just getting started? What would be a realistic and specific goal for the first month?
b. What have you learned about your planning process? Did you set aside time in your schedule for the new activity?
c. Did you coordinate with the other people in your life who were impacted by your changes? What do you need to do now to get their cooperation?
d. What did you learn about your motivation? Do you have a clear picture of the benefits you hope will result when you achieve your goal?

In retrospect Mary realized that “walking almost every day” was too vague and unrealistic. She reformulated her resolution to walking 3 times a week with a friend for 20 minutes for the first month. Mary also reflected on her deep-seated desire to feel as attractive as she felt before putting on extra weight. She started imaging how great she’ll feel when she reaches her goal.
Successful behavioral change involves establishing routines in order to take the struggle out of the daily decision making process. Once a behavior becomes a ritual, it becomes more automatic and less of an agonizing choice.

a. What have you learned about setting up a routine time to work on your goal? How can you establish a daily ritual?
b. Are you keeping a record of your progress? As you go forward how could you formally measure the changes you’re making, e.g. minutes walked or calories consumed?
c. What are you doing to reward yourself when you achieve milestones on the way to your ultimate goal? What consequences do you apply when you don’t follow your plan?

Mary scheduled a regular time to walk that worked for her family, her job, and her friend. She used an app on her cell phone that tracked her time and distance. When she stuck to her routine she put $10 into a reward jar to buy some new clothes, and took out $10 if she didn’t adhere to the plan. She was surprised how much she hated having to remove $10.

Environmental strategies that support success include seeking new knowledge, developing social support, and obtaining professional assistance.

a. What research have you done on how to successfully achieve your goal? Have you gone online to read about how others have been able to accomplish the same goal that you’re working toward?
b. Who have you spoken to about your goal? Anyone who has already accomplished it? Who is most supportive in your life? Are you regularly discussing progress and setbacks with them?
c. If your goal involves getting healthier, have you gotten advice from your primary care physician? If you’re really struggling with achieving your goal, have you considered getting some short-term coaching from a professional? Mary did, and it made all the difference.