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, with the new year up on us, we asked the experts why resolutions fail and how you can make a resolution this year that you can 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 may be 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 their resolutions.”
Given that many folks often expect too much in too little time, Rego suggests trying the SMART theory for planning a successful resolution — or any other kind of behavioral change. It goes like this:
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 3 months. How about 5 to 8 pounds a month for X amount of months? Or just to attend your WW Workshop every week without fail?
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 may 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 may 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,” he says. “So, if the resolution appears to be slowly going awry, the key is to examine your thoughts and behaviors. 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.”
But don’t stop there. Here are some more ideas to help strengthen your resolve.
Make your resolutions public
Share them with one or more people so they can help you stay on track. If you let your friends and family in on your dream, you can use their support to help you make it a reality.
Write down your resolution
But don't stop there: Also include the steps you will take to keep it. According to Laura Hess, a Nevada-based personal and business coach, having a clearly articulated goal and a plan of action is vital for success.
Keep things simple
Break a big goal into a series of smaller goals. Want to lose 50 pounds? Shoot for losing 5 percent of your body weight first, or set five 10-pound incremental weight-loss goals.
Mark your achievements
Each time you make a small lifestyle change aimed at reaching your goal — adding five minutes to your daily walk, for instance — put a star on your calendar so you can see your progress.
Make small changes
If weight loss or a healthier lifestyle is your goal, put a bowl of fruit or vegetable pieces front and center in the fridge, and hide the cookie jar behind the oatmeal. Each week, try a new low-fat cereal or an exotic fruit or a vegetable you haven't tasted before. Stash away your car keys for a weekend and challenge yourself to walk wherever you need to go. Lose the deep-fat fryer, too, and steam, bake or microwave your food.
Tap the power of a streak
Let’s say you keep your resolution for a week, or two weeks, or a month. That’s a terrific streak and you can let it drive you (“I really want to do X, but I’m not breaking my streak.”) And if something happens to force you to break it? Start a new streak!