The Babylonians were the first people to come up with New Year’s resolutions. One of their customs was to return something borrowed from a friend over the year just passed. A common resolution in ancient Rome was to seek forgiveness from enemies of previous years. The Chinese let off fireworks over their New Year. The idea behind all this was to cleanse the self of past sins and bad habits and start again with a clean slate.
These days we do the same thing. We pledge to lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking, be more friendly, and say “I love you,” more often. We begin to save more, spend less, pay down our debt. Mending relationships are high on the list too – making up with friends or family, or making an effort to get along with work colleagues.
Do these resolutions work? Usually not, say psychologists. That’s because they’re based on wishful thinking, rather than commitment. There’s a gap between our intentions and our actions. There’s also the problem that if we make a resolution and then break it, we’ve set ourselves up for failure.
So does this mean we should forget about New Year’s resolutions? No. We often realize that there are some things in our lives we’d like to change. The holiday season is a good time to view the past year with objectivity to see what does and doesn’t need to change.
Strategies to succeed: If you are going to make New Year’s resolutions this year, be sure you are ready for the challenge. Here are some tips to maximize your success:
- Examine your motivation for change. Are you just feeling full and bloated at this moment? Did your last cigarette give you a cough? If you are realistic and accept the responsibility of discipline required for change, your motivation will be sustained long after the discomfort from over-indulgence has passed.
- Write down your goals. If they’re written in black and white you’ll have something to refer to daily.
- Set realistic goals. They need to be achievable. Behaviors that are changed gradually have greater success.
- Be specific. Rather than wanting to lose weight, make it wanting to lose 15 pounds by May 1.
- Work out the action steps of implementing the new goals. For example: To lose 15 pounds I’m going to swim for 40 minutes three times a week and cut 200 calories a day from my dietary intake. Focus on the behavioral change more than the goal.
- Make tasks non-negotiable. People who are most successful at implementing changes are those who make tasks non-negotiable. For example, if you debate with yourself at 5:30 a.m. whether you feel like getting up to exercise, you will probably opt for staying in bed for another hour. But if getting up for exercise is no more negotiable than getting up for work, you’ll do it regardless of how you feel about it.
- Set a time framework and deadlines to reach your goals. Be prepared for the lull, when your initial enthusiasm to the task gives way to drudgery.
- Don’t try to do too much at once. It would be good to quit smoking, lose weight and get fit all at once; but you’re more likely to fail on all counts so work one at a time.
- Get support. It often helps to talk to someone about your goals – friends, family or a professional. If they’re aware of your goals, they’re likely to be supportive and help you stay on track when you’re struggling. Designate a friend, mentor, or companion for sharing successes, monitoring progress, and offering support. The benefit of involving others in your goals and plans is instant access to experience, knowledge and wisdom which also raises the bar of responsibility.
- Allow for imperfection. No one is exactly on target all the time. In fact you should expect to falter every now and then. If you give in to temptation, do not use this as an excuse to abandon the whole program. Learn from your mistake and move forward.
- Keep a diary of your progress. Psychologists say that keeping a record of what you’ve done makes it more likely you’ll stick to your resolution.
- Adjust your attitude. If you have the wrong attitude about, let’s say fitness, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. Most people look at exercise as punishment for bad eating, an obligation, painful, time consuming, or boring. If any of these sound familiar, how long do you think you’ll stick with your program. Whether it is exercise or setting goals at work, try a different perspective and look at your resolution as a reward, a way to improve your life, or a motivation to improve yourself.
- Motivation will not magically happen. What motivates you will change from day to day. You have to recommit to your goals each day, tweak them to fit changes in your lifestyle and attitude and find new ways to motivate yourself over the course of your life.
- And last, but not least, persist until completed! A resolution achieved is a stunning example of consistency and hard work. If you fall behind schedule or are sidetracked for any reason, refocus! Just don’t give up! Don’t surrender to temptation, difficulty or temporary failure. Persist until you achieve the goal.
By investing your efforts in these guidelines that lead to successful resolutions, you give yourself a launch pad for starting your new year and your new life. I encourage you to pursue your resolutions with open arms and to believe deeply in your ability to enjoy the rewards of resolutions and dreams achieved. I wish for you a New Year of health, wealth, and happiness.
The University of Wyoming and the United States Department of Agriculture cooperate.
The University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution.