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Winifred Lender: How to Make Solid New Year’s Resolutions and Keep Them

The new year is here and with it comes the ever-popular resolutions that people set for themselves.

The tradition of setting New Year’s resolutions can be traced back to the ancient Babylonians, and remains prevalent today with up to 45 percent of Americans making resolutions annually.

The idea of improvement and goal setting underlie all resolutions and seem deeply ingrained in our cultural ideals.

Typically, resolutions tend to cluster around goals related to self-improvement, education, weight loss, money and relationships.

The top reported goals for 2016 follow this trend and include enjoy life to the fullest, live a healthier lifestyle, lose weight, save more, spend less, spend more time with family and friends and pay down debt.

While some label resolutions for the new year as “challenges,” they have a similar focus.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, posted that his New Year’s challenge would be building an artificially intelligent robot to help him run his home and work life.

This challenge shares the common focus of many a New Year’s resolution on education and self-improvement, enjoying life to the fullest and potentially spending more time with family, as the robot would make him more efficient with his time.

While we as a culture love to make New Year’s resolutions, research shows that we are not that good at reaching our goals.

Only 8 percent of those that set New Year’s resolutions report achieving them.

Younger adults are more successful at achieving their goals, with 39 percent of individuals in their 20s reporting success in meeting their resolutions, while only 14 percent of individuals in their 50s report success in achieving their resolutions.

There are many reasons why we have trouble maintaining our resolutions.

Research suggests that the difficulty in changing behavior routines, a lack of specificity in resolutions, a focus on too many resolutions at once and the failure to monitor progress toward resolutions are the main culprits that doom our New Year’s resolutions to fail.

Even though the majority of us are not able to maintain our New Year’s resolutions, a body of research suggests that there are valid reasons to set these personal goals.

Researchers at the University of Scranton found that people who explicitly make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve their goals than those who do not explicitly set resolutions.

It seems that the act of formalizing a goal (stating it clearly, communicating it to others, thinking about it) increases the potential for success.

Moreover, research has shown that Americans are often very successful in maintaining their resolutions for the short term — 75 percent maintain through the first week, 64 percent through the first month and 46 percent through the first six months.

Resolutions also allow us time to evaluate our lives, remember that our behavior is malleable and focus on improvement, all worthy activities to be reminded of each year.

Don’t be scared off by the dismal success rates for maintaining New Year’s resolutions for the long term.

There are real benefits to setting resolutions, and you can maximize your chances of success with a focus on how you choose your resolution, monitor success and trouble-shoot for plateaus and slips.

Following the tips below can help increase your odds of being in the select group that achieve long-term success and make you feel empowered as you enter the new year.

Wishing you success at meeting your goals in 2016!

Set Only One to Two Resolutions for the Year

By limiting your focus to one or two goals, you will increase your chances of success.

Make “SMART” Goals

According to Dr. John Norcross, a researcher at Scranton, we will be more successful if we set goals that follow the SMART acronym, which refers to setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific.

Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight this year,” resolve to lose two pounds each month by walking for 15 minutes four times a week and passing on desserts for all but three meals each week.

Keep Track of Your Progress

Monitor your progress on a calendar or an app on which you can record your progress and be aware of any slips.

Reinforce Small Achievements

Plan to reinforce yourself for reaching interval goals. When you lose the first two pounds toward your goal or clean out the first closet in your house, give yourself a reward.

Anticipate That Motivation Will Decrease

Research shows that the farther away from the resolution setting, the harder it will be to maintain your goals.

To remain focused on the importance of your goal, try visualizing it daily, organizing reminders (a photo of the new jeans you hope to wear soon on your bathroom mirror, a picture of the vacation site you hope to visit when you save enough money as your screen saver) and reciting the goal to yourself daily when you awaken.

Restructure Routines That Don’t Support Your Goals

If you find yourself succumbing to a pastry on your way to work, change the side of the street you walk on to avoid the pastry shop.

Likewise, try changing the time of day you work out to see if you might have more energy at another time.

Make Your Resolution Public

By letting your family, friends and work colleagues know about your goal, you are making yourself accountable to them. Doing so increases the chances you will be successful.

Invite Others to Join in Your Resolution

Research shows that people who work with others to reach a goal are generally more successful in attaining it.

Be Kind to Yourself and Avoid “All or Nothing Thinking”

Even successful resolution setters report they experience some plateaus and slip-ups. Expect that these will come and don’t beat yourself up about them.

Instead of considering your resolution to eat better a complete failure because you ate a large piece of chocolate cake, recognize the lapse, normalize it as something that occurs to most people and try to recommit to your goal.

— Winifred Lender, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Santa Barbara and can be contacted at [email protected]. She is the author of A Practical Guide to Parenting in the Digital Age: How to Nurture Safe, Balanced and Connected Children and Teens available at Chaucer’s and Amazon. Dr. Lender completed her undergraduate work at Cornell University and received her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed a fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and is a past president of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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