One of the most common ways to celebrate the birth of a new year is to make a resolution, likely a close second to waiting for the midnight countdown itself. New Year’s resolutions are a tradition that can be linked all the way back to the Babylonian and Roman civilizations. Historically connected to religious vows, resolutions today encompass a variety of areas, whether related to diet, exercise, finances, meeting new people or learning new things. The passing of yet another year causes many to reflect upon ourselves, shifting thoughts internally, asking where we are and where we want to be.
It’s often easy to highlight those areas we’d like to improve; and the new year seems like as fitting a time as any to begin to make a change. Plus, the whole idea of a new start in the new year makes us feel better about indulging over the holiday season. Even with the best intentions, resolutions are hard to stick to, most ending before they even really begin. So we spoke to a few local experts to help us understand reasons we might not succeed in our new goal and ways to help us stick to those resolutions this time.
Why haven’t your resolutions worked in the past? Well, the reason for that is likely very simple. Change is hard.
“Changes are hard for us because we are naturally driven to satisfy our lusts,” says Dr. Britta Ostermeyer, a physician with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. It is quite easy for us to identify areas that need improvement, yet actually achieving that goal is quite a different story.
“It is easy at the end of the year to look back and see things we wish we could change or improve in ourselves,” agrees Dr. Lauren Kenney Garabelli with Mercy Clinic Primary Care in Edmond. “When the New Year starts, our motivation to make those changes often dwindles as the realities and stressors of everyday life overtake us.”
“Changing our behavior requires control and reason over longings,” adds Ostermeyer. “While we realize the great need for these changes, it is very hard to actually do them.”
And, the more difficult the change, the more motivation is required to achieve and sustain the new desired habit.
“The most common reason why people fail is because they set their goals too high and too unrealistic,” says Ostermeyer.
In this fast-paced world, we want big results now.
“We like quick fixes,” says Dr. Sarah Killian, attending physician at St. John Health System.
“Often, the rewards in making lifestyle changes come slowly and are difficult to appreciate on a day to day basis,” agrees Garabelli. “We get overwhelmed and often lose sight of our goals.”
Part of the tradition of making a resolution is society’s acceptance of failing at a New Year’s resolution. So, our resolve to succeed can quickly fade, and often does fail with very little thought or guilt.
“We don’t keep each other accountable or even think about them after the first few days or weeks of the new year,” says Killian.
How do you beat the odds and stick to your resolution? All the experts agree that your best chance of success lies in your resolution itself.
“When you are setting goals, be realistic,” says Killian. “The changes that last are small changes that we make habits.”
“Don’t set out to do too many changes all at once,” adds Garabelli. “You are far more likely to be successful if you pick one thing to work on at a time.”
Your goal should be three important things: realistic, specific and measurable.
“For example, instead of picking something really broad like losing weight, try to make a more specific goal of replacing one soft drink a day with water or going for a walk for 30 minutes, three to five times per week,” says Garabelli.
Killian also suggests making your goal a positive one. Instead of, “don’t eat junk” or “don’t complain,” resolve to eat healthier foods or say “thank you” more often. It’s much easier to do than to not do.
Once you’ve set yourself up with an attainable objective, Garabelli suggests enlisting a team for support.
“You are more likely to be successful if you have someone else to help hold you accountable and make the changes as well,” says Garabelli.
Ostermeyer recommends removing as much temptation as possible.
“If you want to stop eating ice cream, then do not buy ice cream. If you are trying to quit smoking, then do not hang out in places where cigarettes are around,” she says. “Set yourself up for less failure. Reduce the motivation and willpower needed to hit your goal.”
When armed with these tips and a manageable resolution, we are all more likely to keep our resolution of sticking to our resolution.