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Making your resolutions last | Gustafson
New Year's resolutions are a popular annual tradition in spite of their notoriously high failing rates.
According to surveys, almost half of Americans will again vow to change something or other in their lives this month.
Losing weight usually ranks at the top of the list, followed by getting better organized, saving money, taking more time off, improving physical fitness, and quitting or reducing alcohol and tobacco use.
The percentage of people who say they regularly achieve all of their goals is a measly 8 percent. Almost half report partial success, while a quarter admits to complete failure year after year.
Making resolutions has a great deal to do with the belief that we can reinvent ourselves at our choosing, according to Ray Williams, author of "Breaking Bad Habits." It can also be a form of procrastination. It's a way to motivate ourselves to make long overdue changes, if not right away, then at least in the near future.
However, if resolutions are too unrealistic and insufficiently aligned with our actual circumstances, they are doomed from the start.
"When you make positive affirmations about yourself that you don't really believe, the positive affirmations not only don't work, they can be damaging to your self-esteem," Williams writes. "You may think that if you lose weight, or reduce your debts, or exercise more, your entire life will change, and when it doesn't, you may get discouraged and then you revert to old behaviors."
A matter of energy
There may be a multitude of good reasons why we don't follow through with our good intentions but in the end, it all comes down to energy, or lack thereof, says Dr. Carolyn Anderson, a surgeon and wellness expert. "All resolutions require extra energy, and if your day-to-day life already leaves you exhausted, you'll never get around to fulfilling your plans," she says.
Lack of sufficient energy to make lifestyle changes often gets confused with lack of time, which is one of the most common excuses. Energy comes from discipline, she says, discipline to follow proven strategies like eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep. These are the necessary foundations other improvements can be built upon.
Another potential cause for failure is the size and scope of the goals we set for ourselves. The bar may be impossibly high, the target too far away. It may also be a matter of lacking confidence.
"(The) problem isn't that we shouldn't think big, but that we consider ourselves too small of a player in the quest for our own goals," says Kristi Hedges, an executive coach and author of "The Power of Presence." "We set all-or-nothing New Year's resolutions that we can't possibly keep, and frankly don't expect ourselves to."
Many resolutions, she says, are not only unrealistic but also too general and vague to be turned into concrete steps. Failure then becomes an almost inevitable consequence, allowing us to return to our familiar excuses.
Take a new approach
So, before you make another resolution, consider first how you will pursue your goals differently from last time when you failed, says Chrissy Scivicque, a lifestyle and career coach.
Perhaps you didn't plan ahead carefully enough. Or you didn't plan for setbacks and were ill equipped to deal with them when they occurred. You may have lost motivation along the way or forgot why you went on a particular journey to begin with. Maybe you didn't get enough support to keep you going. Or you are prone to sabotaging yourself as you approach success.
Besides setting only specific goals that are realistically achievable, you should only focus on one resolution at a time, advises Ray Williams. Don't wait for New Year's Day to get started. There is no need for artificial timetables. Begin by taking small steps. Pace yourself. Have an "accountability buddy" who helps you keep track of your progress and encourages you when the going gets tough. Don't be too hard on yourself if you advance too slowly or fall back. Celebrate small successes. Be conscious that changing your behavior and mindset is no easy task and takes time.
But it's all worth it and, hopefully, will spare you another frustrating resolution season. Happy New Year.
Timi Gustafson RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book "The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun," which is available on her blog, "Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D." and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.