New Year’s Resolutions. It’s the same thing every year. We celebrate the New Year and imagine one thing (or several things) we’d like to change, usually in an attempt to make ourselves better. Get a better job. Get Fit. Eat healthier. Save Money. Quit smoking. Sound familiar?
There’s no question that these resolutions are great aspirations. So why is it so difficult to keep up with them for more than just a few weeks or months? If you’re like most people, by now you’ve already given up on the plans you made on January 1. But, if you apply the following suggestions to your New Year’s Resolutions, I promise you’ll greatly increase your chances of success.
- Set measurable goals. It’s kind of hard to say we’ve been successful in following our New Year’s Resolution(s) if we have no way of measuring the change we’re looking for. For example, your resolution is to get a better job. Well, what exactly does that mean for you? Does a better job mean control over the hours you work? An additional 5K a year? Fifteen minutes shaved off the commute? Is your New Year’s resolution just one of these many things, or does it need to be all of them in order for your goal to be complete? Determine exactly what you’d like to accomplish, give yourself a timeline, and then develop a plan to reach your goals.
- Start small. Is your New Year’s Resolution to go to the gym every day? While there are some people who can make that happen, for others, it’s not so realistic. If it’s not feasible for you, you’ll probably be inclined to give up that resolution pretty quickly and feel poorly about doing so. Set yourself up for success by starting small and working up toward a healthy challenge. Instead of committing to the gym everyday, start off by going every other week for two months, then once a week for another two months, and then twice a week for another month. By moving gradually and pacing yourself, you’ll be less overwhelmed with your resolution.
- No failures allowed. I’m certainly not saying that every New Year’s Resolution has to go perfectly. It won’t. But when something does go poorly, don’t label it as a failure. You’re more likely to give up completely when you see mishaps and stumbling blocks as failures. Instead, rate your progress on a scale of 1 to 10. Let’s say your resolution is to eat healthier. So when you went out to dinner last night, you had a salad and a low-calorie salmon entrée. For dessert you couldn’t resist ordering the cheesecake with chocolate shavings and caramel sauce. Even though you succumbed to cheesecake temptation, you certainly didn’t fail in your choice of a healthier appetizer and entrée. Instead of thinking of a decadent dessert as failure, rate what happened fairly and accurately. Give yourself a 7, and think of ways to make it to an 8 or 9 the next time you go out for dinner.
- Expect some setbacks and slip-ups. There will be times when you experience setbacks that are out of your control; other times you may slip up all on your own. Have a plan for dealing with setbacks when they arise. If your New Year’s Resolution is to save money, you may find yourself challenged by the temptation of a good sale. You might even cave in a time or two. Recognizing that setbacks happen, and having a plan in place to come back from said slip-up will keep you from becoming so discouraged that you give up on your resolution completely.
- Track your success. Let’s say you decide to gradually cut back on the number of cigarettes you smoke (until you’ve quit completely). Keep track of all the times you resist the urge to smoke. Make note of the moments when you are successful in working toward your goal, and refer back to those moments when you need a little extra motivation. These “notes to self” will be especially important when unexpected temptation shows up. Remember, resolutions are challenging. Arm yourself with all the tools you’ll need to stick with it.
If you’ve already given up on or feel frustrated with your resolution, it’s not too late to hit the reset button. The great thing about life is that there is always an opportunity to start again. The New Year is a great reason to mark a new beginning, but any day, not just a holiday, can be the dawn of a new beginning and an opportunity to start over, try again, and do better. Good luck!
This article is intended for general education purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004.
Lauren Greenberg, MS, LGPC is a graduate of Loyola University in Baltimore. For three years, Lauren provided hotline crisis intervention for individuals with suicidal/homicidal ideation, addiction, panic and anxiety disorders, and mood disorders to residents of Baltimore City. In addition to her work at Goucher College, Lauren provides individual and group sessions on a crisis residential unit. Her professional interests and areas of study include positive psychology, promoting social and emotional competence, and women’s issues.