Should you make a New Year’s resolution?

At some point, someone may ask you if you have a New Year’s resolution. Like many people you may have some ideas regarding changes you want to make, but you may be ambivalent about taking action. Considering by February, typically 80% of people do not maintain their winter pledge (US News and World Report) there is a logic to being anti-resolution oriented. So why are New Year’s resolutions so hard to keep? Is it poor motivation? Is the thought I will do it next year a rationalization to engage in hedonistic behavior and consume that extra bagel or nightcap now? Overall, I don’t think so. I believe most people are earnest when creating their goals for the New Year, but unfortunately run into problems. Below, I have gathered some helpful tips to make 2019 an auspicious year.

Below are some tips to stay on track:

  1. Band Width –How many plates can you hold without dropping one? Even if you have impeccable balance and form, physical capacity like one’s mental/emotional capacity has limits. As a result, making sure you don’t make too many resolutions all at once is something to consider. For example, if you are trying to quit smoking, the goal of also losing weight may be so overwhelming, that you may feel depleted and consequently give up both. Keep the list small, realistic and manageable.
  2. Don’t be fuzzy – Be Specific. For example, if you want to cut down on drinking have a specific number of drinks you will allow yourself to have in a night or week. Without specific boundaries you will end up crossing them, as you will not have a target to measure yourself with or against. This will lead to a haphazard decision making process regarding your behavior.
  3. Obstacles – Eliminate obstacles and have all the tools you need in place to facilitate engaging in new behavior. Did you create enough time, procure the tools and have them readily available to elicit engaging in the behavior. Pre-plan and anticipate obstacles when they come up. For example, if binge eating is something you want to work on you may be aware that binges serve to reduce stress. What other tools can you use to replace urges and how can you have them ready when they come up.

    If you want to write that novel do you have the time for writing blocks allocated in your schedule? Think about what distractions can interfere with your process and how to eliminate them.
  4. Accountability – Creating accountability overall can be positive but may have some negative consequences. There is research suggesting that telling someone about a goal creates a positive social pressure and moves the goal past just the thought phase. However, telling people your goals and getting affirmation can provide satisfaction, which is so satisfying it can actually prevent you from actually engaging in the behavior. Thus, I recommend telling people, but keeping the distinction in mind between intention and action. Knowing that a short burst of reinforcement is not your terminal goal is something to reflect on if you find yourself swimming in the short-term glow of reinforcement.
  5. Watch: TED Talk: Keep Your Goals to Yourself

  6. Values – Review your values regarding what type of life you want to live and how your goals coincide with them. Reflecting on this can help you increase motivation. Writing down values and what behaviors coincide with them can be a helpful exercise. For example, if you value health, getting a good night sleep, eating well, and exercising are behaviors that correspond with this value.
  7. Get back up – Everyone falls down and you will have days when you don’t complete your goals. The key is not to throw them away when you have a bad day. Get back up as soon as possible. Assess what went wrong and why and learn from it. Behavior change is a process that takes time and mistakes or slips will happen. Many people walk away from success due to shame responses when they perceive a failure. The key is to get back up.