It is easy to be cynical about New Year’s resolutions, but in our experience few if any great accomplishments or people have cynicism as a characteristic. Mr. Happy men have no interest in being cynical.
Studies have shown that only one in five people actually achieve their resolutions to diet or improve their relationships (Norcross & Vangarelli, 1988). But achieving a resolution is not as unlikely as it seems. It does not take a special kind of person to make a resolution a reality, but it does take a special kind of mindset. What makes this mindset unique is that it’s realistic.
When people hear the term “realistic” they often think that it means they should not shoot as high as they normally would under more “optimistic” circumstances. They think it means to settle for mediocrity or to avoid struggle. But really, all it means to be realistic is to have a good idea of the way things are and the way things work. When it comes to making New Year’s resolutions about your health, the thing to understand is how you work.
There is a saying in TCM: “One disease, long life. No disease, short life.” It means that people tend to live longer when they know their problems, because only a fool believes he has no weaknesses. For breaking unhealthy habits, it’s important to pay attention to your weaknesses. What are the circumstances that make you more likely to engage in the unhealthy habit? If you’re a chronic overeater, think about the times when you are most likely to overeat. Think about the situations that promote your bad habit, and avoid them. Know your strengths before you lay down a challenge for yourself.
Here is some advice on achieving your New Year’s resolutions:
1. Make resolutions. People who make them are ten times more likely to achieve positive change (Norcross, Mrykalo & Blagys, 2002).
2. Be realistic. Reflect on what you have tried in the past, what has worked, and what has not worked. If you have succeeded whenever you have made a short list of goals (as opposed to a litany), then make a short list. If you know you forget about your goals come February, set a reminder in your calendar app to revisit your resolutions at 9AM every first of the month.
3. Be practical & actionable. Making a resolution to get in shape is not going to help you. Make a resolution instead to go to the gym and lift every other morning, or to go for a 30 minute walk every morning, or to stop buying red meat, or to drink light beer instead of regular. Make them into concrete, daily tasks that you can clearly see that you did or did not do.
4. Try something new. Some people define insanity as doing the same thing and expecting different results. This is not completely inaccurate. Frankly, there is nothing about this year that is incredibly different from last year and is going to make last year’s method work.
5. Be accountable. Tell other people about what you’re hoping to accomplish. Choose people who care about you and care about you achieving your goals. Tell them that you think it might be hard, and that you would appreciate them checking up on you every once in a while. Alternatively, sign up for something, perhaps a 5k. When you sign up, it’s hard not to show up, and a deadline can do wonders for motivation.
6. Be patient. Heed the wisdom of an old saying: “A thousand mile journey begins with one step.” Note that it does not say, “A thousand mile journey is completed in one step,” or “in one day,” or “before you know it.” Adopt a pace you know you can keep, and don’t try to set any World Records. Even one step every day amounts to seven steps in a week.
Achieving a New Year’s resolution is a simple, but not easy, process that takes reflection, a large number of small steps, and commitment. Be honest with yourself, set practical goals that you know you can actually accomplish every day, and get the support you think you will need. All lasting change takes time, but thankfully you have the whole year.
Happy New Year. Let's make 2015 our best year yet.
David & Dr. Geo
Norcross, J. C., & Vangarelli, D. J. (1988). The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. J Subst Abuse, 1(2), 127-134.
Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagys, M. D. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jclp.1151