EVERY year millions of people make resolutions designed to change their lives. The top 10 most common ones: lose weight, save or earn more money, stop smoking, spend more time with family, stick to a budget, find a better job, eat better, become more organized, exercise more, and become a better person.
Good intentions all. But according to one survey of 12,000 people reported at eDiets.com, a consumer diet and fitness Web site, about 30 percent of those making resolutions say they don t even keep them into February, and only about one in five actually stays on track for six months or more. Typical New Year s resolutions last an average of five days.
The beginning of a New Year is a great time to begin making positive improvements in our lives. When we view the end of the year as the closing of a chapter and January as symbolically turning over a new page, why shouldn t we take advantage of the occasion to bring some badly needed upgrades into high priority areas of our lives?
The obvious question becomes, How can we make these needed improvements last? Why would this year be any different from past years when we tried some new goals, and they didn t last? It can be discouraging, and most give up. Successful people know it takes work.
They know goals are necessary to attain anything worthwhile. Human beings function best when they have measurable, specific goals, and lots of motivation to get them done. So how can we say what we mean, and mean what we say?
First, and most important, focus only on what s important to you. If it s not important, then it shouldn t be a resolution. Also, it should be realistic and within your control. Keep your personal growth in mind, and drive towards it to become who you want to be.
In a study designed to understand the factors that best predict success in keeping New Year s resolutions, conducted by Elizabeth Miller, a University of Washington doctoral candidate in psychology, and Alan Marlatt, director of the university s Addictive Behaviors Research Center, researchers found the key to making a successful resolution is a person s confidence and commitment to make change.
Second, develop a specific program to achieve your goal. No program equals no success. As you develop your specific plan, be reasonable but stretch.
As Denis Waitley, the great motivator said, make those goals within sight but out of reach. That is how we grow. Even set goals to achieve by Feb. 1, March 1, April 1, etc. Breaking yearly goals into bite-sized chunks will cause you to do better and get more done. It takes about 21 days before a new behavior or routine becomes a habit. Miller and Marlatt, in the study cited above, found that resolutions are a process, not a one-time effort....
Third, go public. Do not keep the goal or plan a secret. Often people worry that if they tell others about their change efforts and then fail, it will be humiliating. What they forget is that most people have a sincere respect for efforts toward self improvement. To recruit friends, family, and loved ones in their efforts will gain their support and encouragement.
Making a pact with a confidant to accomplish certain tasks helps. And when there is money involved even a dollar commitment between friends it will have more impact than word of mouth or words on paper. To make it fun will make it happen.
Fourth, keep track of your progress. The more monitoring you do and the more feedback you get, the better you will do. One reason why monitoring and feedback are important is the need to avoid distractions, triggers, and bad habits. Because the change is occupying a new space in your life, you may have had to reorder your priorities off-loading the bad for the good or the better for the best, and everything that occupied the space before the new changes took place can be distractions that are hard to avoid.
In addition to distractions, there will be triggers trying to get you to resume your old habits. For example, if you try to stop smoking, you have friends who smoke whose mere presence may be a trigger to lighting up. When you try to quit drinking, you may pass your favorite watering hole. Keeping track of your progress helps combat the triggers.
The bad habits you are trying to change will recur. New habits don t develop in a vacuum. Habits serve functions: to reduce stress, enhance socialization, and make tasks feel easier. You can t just give up bad habits, especially if they have endured for a long period of time.
Until the new habit is deeply embedded in both your psyche and behavior, your old habits will haunt and entice you. Keep in mind the importance of the goal and how it moves you toward becoming who you want to be. That s why that first step, focusing only on what s important to you, is crucial.
When importance flags, commitment sags.
Successful New Year s resolutions require time, effort, focus, and commitment. Breaking old habits and making new ones will not occur overnight. Of the people who successfully achieved their top resolution, only 40 percent of them did so on the first attempt. It may take multiple tries to be successful.
We can have a new beginning anytime we want one, yet it is a wonderful time each year when we can use the change of dates on a calendar to correct ineffective or bad behaviors, replacing them with positive, goal-achieving behaviors.
It is a great time to examine your personal life and make changes.
Richard L. Weaver II is a retired professor of speech communication at Bowling Green State University.