‘Tis that time of the year again: 40 to 45 percent of adults in the United States will make New Year’s resolutions, continuing a tradition that began in ancient Roman times.
Resolutions run the gamut of self-improvement, but the majority concern health behaviors, such as losing weight, starting exercise, stopping smoking and reducing alcohol use.
- Make realistic, attainable goals. Vague goals beget vague resolutions. Grandiose goals beget resignation.
- Develop a specific action plan. What, specifically, are you going to do differently to counter the problem?
- Establish genuine confidence that you can keep the resolution despite the occasional slip. Confidence (or self-efficacy, as psychologists call it) is a potent predictor of who succeeds in the New Year.
- Publicly declare your resolution. Public commitments are generally more successful than private decisions.
- Track your progress by recording or charting your changed behavior. Research indicates that such “self-monitoring” increases the probability of keeping the resolution.
- Reward your successes. Reinforce yourself for each step with a (healthy) treat. Perhaps you could create a reward contract with a loved one.
- Build in a healthy behavior incompatible with your problem. For example, learn assertion if your resolution is to be less passive or learn to relax if you are resolved to decrease stress.
- Arrange your environment to help, rather than hinder, you. Limit exposure to high-risk situations and create reminders for your resolutions. If you are limiting the sweets, don’t hang out in the bakery.
- Expect occasional slips in your resolutions. Most successful resolvers slip in January. But a slip need not be a fall; pick yourself up and recommit to your resolution. Don’t let one missed exercise class end the exercise program. One study showed that 71 percent of successful resolvers said their first slip had actually strengthened their efforts.
- Avoid self-blame after a slip. Frequent self-blame predicts who will give up soon.
- Cultivate social support. The buddy system works! And buddies can be coworkers, family members, friends or fellow resolvers.
- Think of resolutions as marathons, not 100-yard dashes. Prepare for the long haul of a changed lifestyle.
- Prepare for slips associated with negative emotions and social pressures. Create a “slip plan” to deal with those situations once into February. Consider, for example, leaving the pressured situation, distracting yourself, calling a friend and reminding yourself that a slip (lapse) need not be a fall (relapse).
- Avoid getting negative about yourself or your slips—be positive about your successes!
- Remember that meaningful change takes time. It takes three to six months before a change becomes routine.