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Keeping those New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 5, 2012

Every year we make resolutions and every year we see them fade away with the cold of winter. This year, I thought we might help provide a few tips (probably none new) to help keep your resolutions.

First – Make it attainable.

Whatever resolution you make, make it manageable. Do not make your resolution to become the next PM of Canada – probably aint gonna happen. Your resolution must be something that is both realistic physically but also realistic given your own psychology. One resolution could be to learn a new language; however that would not be an attainable goal for me, not for physical reasons but due to psychological issues – I don’t like or have the patience to learn a third language. So, keep in mind when selecting you goal, don’t pick something that is in theory a good resolution but something that suits your personality and capacities.
Second – Make it specific.

I make my goal to lose weight – a common resolution – but what does that actually mean? For a goal to be attainable it must be well articulated and planned. So if my intent it so lose weight I can make that a specific resolution by recasting it as “I will go to the gym once a week for 45 mins”. This takes the amorphous ‘lose weight’ into actionable and trackable acts. Don’t over achieve, once a week may seem ‘light’ but it’s better to set yourself up for a success than failure. I could say 5 times a week and make failure a certainty. You can always increase the frequency and duration of your resolution later.

Third – Make it manageable.

Do not try to change 20 things, when you make your resolutions list don’t put more than 5 things on it…in fact you should have at most 2. The more things you try to do, the more you will stress yourself and make it more likely you will abandon your goal. Once you abandon one resolution, it becomes easier to abandon a second and soon, in a fit of despair and self-loathing, you say ‘screw it’ to them all.
This ties in to research that shows our ‘will power’ is like a muscle…limited at first but improves with practice. By limiting the number of goals that require our will power, the more likely we will be able to have ‘strength enough’ to persevere.
The next two points have both positive and negative aspects. However, I think we are stronger in groups than individuals even when that relationship can backfire.

Fourth – Make it communal.

Okay, not every resolution can be done in groups but the more people working at a similar goal, the better it is for all. When one’s will power wains, the others can help pull-up the slack. It also has the possibility of taking what alone would be a chore and turning it into a social highlight of the week. Instead of going to the gym to use the stepper for 45 min, one can go on a weekly nature walk with a group of friends. Adding this positive aspect will not only help one maintain the resolution but can actually improve the positive impact of the activity.
OF course you must make sure your compatriots in resolution have not overloaded themselves. Group resolutions can be undone as easily by the group if its members feel overwhelmed by the 100 other resolutions they are trying to maintain and thus as a group absolve each other of this one simple resolution. So, recruitment of resolution partners is very important.

Fifth – Make it public.

There is nothing like peer pressure and the thought of public failure to help one maintain a resolution. Resolutions made in private can be easily forgotten or abandoned as our internal rational allows us to ‘explain’ why we could not do it…rational that when exposed to other, non-bias, people often is found lacking. When we inform our supportive friends (and it is important they are supportive), they will provide friendly reminders that ‘Should you be at the gym now?’, they can help you track your progress, they can help ensure that if your ‘skip a week’ is for valid reasons and not just to get out of going.
However, like the previous point, this can backfire if you are not careful. Some friends are enablers…they provide us with excuses NOT to better ourselves. We can also project failure on to our peer groups to justify abandoning a resolution because “just because they like it doesn’t mean I really wanted to do it…if it’s so important to them, let them try and eat only carrots for lunch”, or something like that.
It can also have more serious repercussions, if we publicly fail at something both our self-esteem can be damaged and we can also become depressed – not good things. This risk though is usually worth it because of the positive feelings generated by succeeding in achieving our goals.

Sixth – Try, try and try again.

Now let’s be realistic , you will skip a week…in a moment of weakness you will give in to temptations and break your resolutions. Don’t let this become an excuse to abandon your resolution. We choose January 1 arbitrarily; if you ‘fall off the wagon’ in February once or even twice, don’t let that be the end of you attempting your goal. Make a March 1st resolution and give yourself another chance to achieve your goals.

If you follow these simple steps the only things between you and attaining your goal…realizing your New Year’s resolution is yourself. You can do it…we can all do it!


These are my thoughts; can you add any words of wisdom to help you fellow skeptics?

2 Responses to “Keeping those New Year’s Resolutions”

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