How to make a commitment in the New Year you can actually stick to.
Ever since the Babylonians began celebrating the New Year 4,000 years ago and resolved to return something they borrowed from a neighbor the previous year, humans have made resolutions. And for 4,000 years, we haven’t been very good at keeping those resolutions.
In fact, we can’t even agree that it was the Babylonians that actually started the tradition. So, now that 2015 is here, we asked the experts why resolutions fail and how you can make one that you'll stick with.
Each year, millions of Americans resolve to lose weight, exercise more, make more money and quit or cut back on a vice (such as smoking or drinking). While these are reasonable and often necessary changes to make, we have a difficult time seeing the resolution through. Experts say this is because we bite off more than we can chew — expecting sweeping results in a short amount of time.
“I believe that resolutions fail the overwhelming majority of the time because people initially set their goals too high or do not take the time to plan how they will accomplish their resolutions,” says Simon A. Rego, PsyD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “It is not about the person. I believe that anyone can be successful in keeping their resolutions. They just need to put a little time and effort into planning and structuring.”
David Epstein, MD, medical director for Cigna Healthcare in Atlanta, agrees that resolutions need to be tempered and given much more flexibility to allow for success. His company did a study on resolutions and how successful they are and found that expectations are too high when the average American makes a New Year’s resolution.
“Intellectually, they know that they should make these changes. Maybe it’s a collective guilt trip over our indulgence as a society. We’re very into instant gratification and ‘supersize me’,” says Epstein. “But it’s a long-term proposition and not a quick fix.”
Given that Americans expect too much in too little time, Epstein and Rego say there is a process to planning a successful resolution — or any other kind of behavioral change, and it’s called the “SMART” theory.
- S-Specific: What exactly are you going to do? Make it clearly defined and simple.
- M-Measurable: How long? How much? What are the milestones you’ll reach along the way?
- A-Attainable: Make it reasonable. Don’t expect to lose 50 pounds in three months. How about 5 to 8 pounds a month for X amount of months?
- R-Rewarding: You have to stop and reward yourself along the way. Small rewards for reaching modest milestones will keep you motivated and keep you positive.
- T-Time-limited: Set an end date. That last thing you want to do is keep your resolution open ended, because you’ll have less focus. At the same time, make sure you give yourself enough time to attain your main goal.
With your new SMART thinking, coming up with a reasonable resolution should be fairly easy. And if you follow these rules, you’ll have a much better chance for success.
Rego, a cognitive behavioral therapist, says staying positive is a critical aspect of keeping your resolution. “We see negative mood states as being influenced by thoughts and behaviors. So, if the resolution appears to be slowly going awry, the key is to examine your thoughts and behaviors,” he says. “We all have an inner critic that comments on the world around us, but we do not have to listen to it. Focus on the benefits of achieving your resolution versus the costs in working for it.”
More good advice: Don’t go it alone. Epstein says clue your friends and family into what you’re doing. Not only will those people encourage you along the way, but you’ll also be publicly accountable for your resolution, giving you added incentive to see your resolution to fruition. With a positive attitude, you can adopt your new behavior for life.
“We’re Americans. We’re a country of hope. We tend to be fairly optimistic, and that if we try this year, we can do better,” says Epstein. “With the New Year, we get a clean slate and we can let go of last year’s baggage.”
Now get to it.