The Smart Way of Making New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

Well, it’s almost New Year’s Eve and if you’re like many Americans, you’ll put pressure on yourself to whip up some resolutions for 2018 by the time the ball drops in Times Square. And, if you’re like most of those Americans, you’ll probably have broken them all by Martin Luther King’s birthday. So what is it about New Year’s resolutions that makes them so hard to keep?

Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, says that resolutions are a form of ‟cultural procrastination” … an effort to reinvent oneself. People make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves, he says. However, Pychyl argues that people aren’t really ready to change their habits—particularly bad habits—and that accounts for the high failure rate. In addition, people set unrealistic goals and expectations in their resolutions.

Making New Year’s resolutions work involves changing behaviors. And, in order to change a behavior, you have to change your thinking … or literally, “rewire” your brain.

Brain scientists such as Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux, and psychotherapist Stephen Hayes have discovered, through the use of MRIs, that habitual behavior begins with thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories. These pathways become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision.

Thus, if you always slam a pint of Ben and Jerry’s when you’re feeling bad (or in my case, pizza), that becomes your default behavior. Trying to change that default thinking by trying not to do it, in effect, just strengthens the behavior. Real change requires new thinking, which physically creates new neural pathways in the brain.

Set your resolutions a new way to make them “keepable”

When we set goals, we’re taught to make them specific, measurable and time-bound. But it turns out that those characteristics are precisely the reasons resolutions can backfire for some people. The problem for these people is that their goal was too big or that they had too many. If this is you, don’t beat yourself up because you have the company of millions of people across the country.

If you always blow your resolutions, just make one or two maximum. And try not to make it physical and financial. These two are, by far, the most challenging and the easiest to cheat upon. If your health is poor, pick that one because if you’re not healthy, none of the others will matter. On the other hand, if your finances are in a shambles, you may want to work on that one because the stress involved will eventually affect your health.

Having said that, when you are making your New Year’s resolutions, here are some tips to help you make them work:

  • Focus on one resolution, rather than several
  • Set realistic, and depending on the resolution, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 pounds in 90 days is.
  • Don’t wait till New Year’s Eve to make resolutions because your resolution will be based on how you’re feeling at the moment … or based on alcohol intake. Make it a year long process, every day.
  • Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big … requiring too much effort and action all at once. For instance, if you think you need to lose 70 pounds, break it out into 10-pound increments. When you hit that first 10 pounds, create a new goal of another ten pounds in X amount of days. DON’T get cocky and up it to 20 pounds in the same amount of days. Keep losing 10 pounds at a time and after a while, you’ll be at your perfect weight.
  • Have an “accountability buddy,” someone close to you to whom you have to report. However, make it someone who will actually hold you accountable. Not your drinking or pizza-binging partner.
  • Celebrate your success with milestones. Don’t wait the goal to be finally completed.

And finally, don’t take yourself so seriously. Have fun and laugh at yourself when you slip up, but don’t let the slip hold you back from working at your goal. Better yet, come up with one or two resolutions that would be almost impossible for you to break. That way you can tell yourself honestly that you haven’t broken ALL of them. For help, here are a few (tongue in cheek) resolutions you should be able to keep.

This new year, I will no longer:

  1. Run through the office while juggling knives
  2. Send “funny” images of “epic fails” and “LOLCats” via SMS or chat to someone who I am currently talking on the phone with
  3. Consider apple martinis part of my “daily fruit intake”
  4. Consider second and third breakfasts real meals
  5. Be pessimistic. I pledge to be more optimistic by keeping my cup half-full … with either rum, vodka, or whiskey.
  6. Work on my retirement savings by buying lottery tickets at the gas station by my house. I resolve to find a luckier store.
  7. Hang out with people who ask me about my New Year’s resolutions.
  8. Ignore my philantropic side. I will devote myself to working with neglected children—like, my own kids … whatshername and the short guy.
  9. Tell the same story at every department lunch or get-together.
  10. Be non-chalant about my online security, so I will think of an online password other than “pa$$word.” Maybe … “Pa$$w0rd?”
  11. Waste my time reliving the past. Now, I will spend it worrying about the future.
  12. For the telecommuter/virtual employee: Just for today, I will not sit in my living room all day in my underwear. Instead, I will move my computer into the bedroom.
  13. Irritate my boss with the same excuse for taking time off. I will think of more innovative excuses.
  14. Take our fragile planet’s eco-system for granted. Therefore, I will do less laundry and compensate by using more deodorant.

Sigh … I still wonder how I survived this whole year, especially with my addiction to running while juggling knives? But for you, may all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions USED to last. See you in 2018!

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