New Year…New You?

The stress of the holiday season is behind us, and we’ve rung in a new year. The beginning of a new year is a reminder for us to reflect on the year that’s passed and make plans for the year to come. Many people take this opportunity to make New Year’s resolutions. With our expanding waistlines, shrinking bank accounts, and recently high stress levels from the holiday season, we vow that next year we will eat healthier, lose weight, save more money, and take time to relax. And if you’re like most people who make New Year’s resolutions, you’ve probably made the same ones year after year with little change. Surveys repeatedly show that the majority of New Year’s resolutions fail soon after they are made.

So how can you make this year different? First, if you’re planning on overhauling your life, think again. Thinking that your life will be completely different this year if you make enough resolutions is a recipe for disaster. If there are a lot of changes you’d like to make, create a list and prioritize. Decide which are the most important for you to start with and which can wait for later. Tackling your goals one or two at a time will help you stay on track. Setting too many goals at once increases the risk that you will become overwhelmed and give up. Recent research also shows that willpower is like a muscle; you only have so much strength in it on any given day, but exercising it consistently helps it to increasein strength over time. Setting too many goals at once makes it more likely that you will exhaust your stores of willpower early in the day, which increases the likelihood of setbacks. It may also decrease your tolerance for daily frustrations, which can make you feel more stressed (and probably make you less enjoyable to be around).

Once you’ve created your list, the following tips can help you make meaningful changes this year, and maybe even save you from breaking the same promise to yourself again this year and next:

  • Start small. Choose one or two resolutions to begin with. Once you’ve met those goals, you can focus on other ones.
  • Set specific goals with measurable outcomes. Instead of saying, for example, that you want to eat healthier, you could make a goal of eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day or only eating red meat once a week. If you want to lose weight, you could set a specific amount of weight and a time frame in which to do it.
  • Break down each goal into smaller steps, and give yourself a small reward for completing these steps. This will help you stay on track and motivated.
  • Expect setbacks. Changing patterns is hard work, and real change takes time. If you view setbacks as failures, you’re more likely to give up the goal entirely. Eating one piece of chocolate cake doesn’t mean you’ve blown your diet and might as well eat the rest of the cake. If you view setbacks as temporary bumps in the road, you’re more likely to stay on track.
  • Focus on the benefits of meeting your goals rather than the problems with failure. People who focus on the benefits of making a change are more likely to stick with their goals than those who focus on the negative.
  • Ask yourself why you want to make this change. What will be different if you make this change? On a 10 point scale, how motivated are you to change? What would make you more motivated?
  • Consider enlisting help or support from trusted friends or loved ones.

Remember, there’s nothing magical about a new year. You can set resolutions any day and they will be just as meaningful. People feel compelled to make resolutions on New Year’s Day, but often these resolutions are more like putting wishes into the universe that something will be different next year and hoping it will magically come true. What’s the harm in that? Repeatedly breaking your resolutions may be doing more harm than good. Breaking promises to ourselves negatively impacts our self-view, including our belief that we are capable of actually making these changes. So, if your resolutions are important to you, consider waiting to make them until you’ve made a plan of action that you are motivated to enact. Otherwise, consider skipping the resolutions this year.

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