January 10, 2006
Keeping Resolutions for Healthy Change: New Year Resolutions and Beyond
David Prescott, Ph.D
The New Year is traditionally a time to take stock of our lives and consider ways to improve or change. Setting goals is an important first steps, but making changes which last over time can feel next to impossible. So, before you slide back into old habits that you would like to change, consider a few strategies for making those New Year resolutions become a permanent part of your life.
Common Resolutions: Not surprisingly, research suggests that the many Americans have similar goals for change. The most common New Years resolutions are:
• Quit Smoking
• Lose Weight
• Exercise more Regularly
In one study about three-fourths of people who made resolutions picked one of these three. Interestingly, getting along with one’s in-laws also made a strong showing!
After two years, about one in five people (20%) are able to keep to their resolution. On the other hand, three in five (60%) drop their resolution within 6 months. What makes for success? How were these people different from those who were unable to change or unable to sustain the change?
Specify Your Goal: People who are ready to take action to change an unwanted habit, or start a new habit, are able to specifically say what they want to do. The more specific you can be, the more likely you are to actually make a change. Actually making a resolution makes you more likely to change than just talking about doing something different. And, the more specific you can be, the easier it is to start. For example, saying that you want to “eat better” is a good start, but setting a goal of eating one fruit and one vegetable at each meal is even better. Or, if you want to get along with your in-laws better, deciding to send them a card once a month would be a specific step.
Start Small: Setting big goals can stop you before you begin. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and to feel like you don’t have the time or energy to reach a difficult goal. We know that change leads to more change. So, start small. What is something you can accomplish this week? One walk? One morning without smoking?
Which Situations Are High Risk? There is no need to show your resolve by putting yourself in a situation that tempts you to go back to old habits. In fact, these situations can be a cue, or signal, for you to go back to old ways. A change in routine can help you change your behavior. For example, taking a break at work when your friends have a cigarette makes it more likely that you will join them. Taking your break at a different time can help you stick to your goal of cutting back on smoking.
Plan for Relapse: People who make changes and stick to them often slip back to old ways at least once. Plan for this. How are you going to get back to your new ways? For example, if your goal is to exercise more, plan for the time when you miss your exercise. Think of ways that one missed day doesn’t become two. Reward your success, and move on quickly from your disappointments.