Do you need to hit the refresh button on your New Year’s resolutions?
Research shows that as we enter February, about a third of us who’ve made resolutions will have already given up. At six months, about 40 to 46 percent of us who’ve made New Year’s resolutions will be successful, which means more than half of us aren’t.
More than likely that’s because we are too ambitious, too vague or too hard on ourselves, when it comes to making and keeping resolutions, say experts on making resolutions and life changes.
But that doesn’t mean you should give up. You just may need to rethink your resolution, formulate a better plan, be less critical of yourself and be more persistent.
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Wichitan Sharon Durmaskin makes New Year’s resolutions every year and has learned from her experiences.
“I’ve learned over the years to not make resolutions unrealistic,” she said. In the past she’s made resolutions to lose weight, but abandoned them “mostly because I became frustrated that I didn’t lose 50 pounds overnight. I knew I didn’t eat more than the average human and honestly, I couldn’t figure out why it was so difficult for me to lose weight, in spite of exercising and eating right.” Later, when she started eliminating sugar because of a health issue, she started losing weight.
She also has learned “life happens,” and can cause you to slip, like she did recently when she missed doing the daily meditation she’d resolved to do this year.
“But I will keep on keeping on,” Durmaskin said. “We’re humans, and we’re going to misstep and make a mistake, and I’m OK with that.”
That’s the kind of thinking that Joseph Donaldson, a counselor with FirstStarr Rehabilitation and Behavioral Health in Wichita, encourages.
“We’re creatures of habit so it’s going to be hard to break habits, but that doesn’t mean it’s not doable,” Donaldson said. “We beat ourselves up because we want to see results, and we’re gung ho and if we fall off, we get discouraged. It doesn’t mean life is over or that the goal is over.”
We often fail whenever we try to tackle something new, said Katherine Milkman, an assistant professor at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania who has done research on people making behavior changes.
“I don’t think there is anything special about New Year’s resolutions in this respect,” Milkman said in an e-mail interview. “The important thing though is that you can’t hit a home run if you don’t swing. New Year’s gets us swinging, and I think that’s great even if every swing doesn’t produce a home run.”
Tips for restarting
Here are some tips the experts have for getting back on track with your resolutions.
▪ Revisit your resolution. If you failed to psyche yourself up for this year’s resolution, revisit it and develop realistic goals and a specific action plan, experts said.
Jill D. Miller, a business consultant and owner of Jill D. Miller Creative Solutions, likes to advise her clients to use a method called SMART for both personal and professional goal-setting. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.
For example, if your goal is to lose weight, determine how many pounds you want to lose in a certain amount of time. Losing 50 pounds in two months isn’t realistic, so that will make the goal unattainable, along with irrelevant. An average, healthy weight loss is about 1 to 3 pounds per week. Doing regularly scheduled weigh-ins makes the goal measurable.
She, along with other experts, recommend doing regular progress checks to stay on track or to make adjustments to stay successful. Evaluate how you are doing on meeting your resolution at regular intervals, say weekly or monthly. For example, if your goal was put $100 in savings per month, check your finances weekly to determine if you had any budget pitfalls and how you could have avoided them. Would eliminating one day a week out of your coffee shop habit make up the deficit? If you know the next week or month will have some higher expenses, you may also need to adjust your savings goal for the month.
▪ Plan for slips. “There are a lot of variables that can come into play to cause us to get off track, so you have to plan for it,” Donaldson said. For example, how will you handle an invitation to join friends at a restaurant, if your goal was to lose weight? Rather than sacrificing social connections for a number on a scale, review the restaurant’s menu beforehand or ask the waiter for healthy options.
If you’ve already abandoned your resolution, look back and try to figure out why, he said. Did you give up on improving physical fitness because you missed a couple of exercise classes? Why did you miss the classes? Maybe you discovered that you were too fatigued from working out seven days a week, but could handle five.
“If you know why, you can look at how you can incorporate that and then plan for it,” Donaldson said.
▪ Be positive. John Norcross, author of “Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing your Goals and Resolutions,” recommends not getting negative about yourself or your slips.
“It’s a thinking error,” he said about most people who succumb to negative thoughts about a slip. “Some people think ‘it’s over so there’s no use to doing it.’” Avoid thinking that the slip is proof positive of incompetence, he said. Look at your slip as a learning experience, he said, citing that in one research 71 percent of resolvers said their first slip strengthened their efforts.
Donaldson, too, subscribes to being more optimistic. If you were able to keep your resolution for 14 days before you abandoned it, look back and evaluate what progress you did make and take note of that success, he said.
“If you had the energy, motivation and understanding to do it for those 14 days, you can do it for another 14 days. Any progress is good.”
▪ Be persistent. As the saying goes, change takes time. According to Norcross, it takes three months before a change becomes routine.
Ways to help with persistence are creating some accountability, said Milkman.
“Make them (goals) public to family, friends and co-workers so you have people who will hold you accountable,” Milkman said. “Consider creating a commitment contract on a website like Stickk.com, so you have money on the line that you will forfeit if you fail to achieve your goal.”
▪ Make a fresh start. Keep in mind that New Year’s isn’t the only time you can make a goal.
While the start of the new year is probably the most popular time for people to make resolutions, Milkman’s research shows that people use other landmark times, or “fresh start” occasions, for making changes. Other popular fresh start times, according to her published study, are the beginning of a week, a month, a semester, after one’s birthday and the day after a federal holiday.