Sticking to New Year's Resolutions

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Are you one of the 40-50% of Americans who make a resolution each year? If you are, will you be part of the 15% who keeps them, or the 85% who breaks them?

Fortunately, new research reveals tried-and-tested strategies that can dramatically increase your chances of keeping your resolutions, and turning year-end ambitions into year-long lifestyle changes.

Each year, as the season rolls around, 40-50% of Americans intend to make a resolution. This percentage has roughly doubled since the 1930s and 1940s. The vast majority of resolutions fall into three categories: losing weight, quitting smoking, and starting an exercise program

New Year's Resolutions are ancient. Over 4,000 years ago, Babylonians tried to start the New Year “fresh” by repaying debts and returning borrowed items. Two thousand years ago, Romans ended the year by reviewing the one before, resolving to achieve more, and paying homage to Janus, the god of doorways and beginnings (and namesake of the month January).

Surprise! The vast majority of people who make resolutions break them.

Usually quickly.

Procrastination and laziness, two major culprits with Breaking resolutions often get confused. For procrastination, you honestly intended to do the work. Not caring about the work in the first place, that’s laziness.

We are hard-wired to value the short-term more than the long-term. Inordinately so. It fit perfectly in a hunter-gatherer society where food rots in a day or so.

Do NYR’s Work?
Well, sort of. Research suggests that the long-term success rates of NYRs are only about 15-20%. Put another way, 80-85% are not able to keep their resolutions over a one to two year period. For example, at some point in their lives, nearly half of Americans have made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight or change their eating habits; of those:
20% broke their resolution within a week,
68% broke it within three months, and only
15% kept their resolution for a year or longer.

But the news isn’t all bad. The process of making a New Year’s resolution does appear to increase the likelihood of making a life change and sticking to it. In other words, only 15-20% of resolution-makers are able to keep their resolutions, but people who try to make the same kinds of life changes without making a resolution do even worse.

Why Do NYR’s Fail?
Too many goals. People rarely pick one resolution to work on throughout the year. As a result, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the prospect of having too many goals, requiring too many changes, involving too much time and energy.

Failure to plan
It is often said that if you fail to plan you are planning to fail. The lack of a viable plan is a major impediment to the successful completion of any task. Last minute work and success is a common myth. It’s a procrastinator trying to justify doing less work on a project. A lot of creativity requires an incubation period. That means you do the task, take it as far as you can, then put it away for awhile. When you come back to it, you see new connections.

Lack of discipline
Although we don't like to admit it, many of us fail at keeping our New Year's resolutions simply because we lack the discipline to follow through. Often times a lack of discipline is due to the fact that we aren't totally committed to the resolution in the first place. There are two fun approaches to address lack of discipline.

First, pre-commitment: You do something now to prevent yourself from doing otherwise later. For instance, Victor Hugo stripped naked and gave all his clothes to his valet to make himself write. The valet would return with the clothes only at an appointed hour. Some people like the Clocky concept. The clocky concept is using an alarm clock on wheels, which prevents you from turning off the alarm or hitting the snooze button. As soon as the alarm goes off, Clocky scoots off the table, runs around the room and tries to hide under the bed, with the alarm still ringing. The idea is to prevent temptations. Turn off and put away the cellphones and other electronics. The other approach is to imagine the very worst outcome. You put off doing the report until the last minute. But you fall sick and can’t do it. At the office, you are whisked in front of a podium to present your report. Everyone in the packed room is waiting for your findings. The company president is there. You have nothing. You look like a buffoon. On his cellphone, a colleague makes a video of you and posts it on YouTube. The idea is that bad things can happen from delay. Every time we procrastinate, we’re rolling the dice.

Tips for success in keeping New Year's resolutions
Acknowledge past successes. Even if you've had trouble keeping resolutions in the past, surely there are goals you've set that you have accomplished.

Remind yourself, by making a list if you have to, of goals that you've set and successfully achieved in the past as evidence that you can do it.
Identify no more than three goals to focus on. It is easy to become overwhelmed when you're trying to reach too many goals simultaneously.

Recognize that you have limited time, energy, and resources to devote to meeting your new goals, so choose them wisely and then focus only on those that are most important at this point in time.

Work on one goal at a time. Many people are beginning to realize that multitasking is overrated. The trend towards accomplishing more by doing less is proving that there are tangible benefits that come from focusing our energies and resources on one task, or goal, at a time. Ideally, pick one goal and work on it until you've accomplished it before moving on to the next one. If you really do have more than one goal that you need to accomplish during the year, set a time limit for completing the first goal and then move to the next goal once that time period has elapsed.

Set Realistic Goals
S - specific
M - measurable
A - attainable
R - realistic
T - timely
S – setback plan

Have an action plan
Create a plan for how you will approach meeting your goal. The plan should include your SMART goals, the resources required to meet your goals, specific things you'll need to do, and a description of your intended result. In other words, your action plan should address what you're trying to do, how you're going to do it, and what success will look like when you've achieved your goal. Remember to break your "project" into small, manageable pieces in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Set milestones and reward successes
While it's important to keep the ultimate goal in view, the chances of success are greater if you set milestones along the way. Take the opportunity to reward yourself when you meet a milestone, providing motivation, encouragement, and an added incentive to continuing working towards your ultimate goal.

Write your goals
Committing goals to paper increases the likelihood of achieving them. It's not clear why this is true, but there's something about the act of setting our intentions that seems to make them more real. Write your goals and place them in strategic places where you will see them regularly. Consider finding a photograph or some other graphic image to represent your completed goal and place that in a visible place too. These visual clues will serve as reminders to help keep you focused on your goal.

Join forces with an accountability partner
It's usually easier to meet a goal if we're not doing it alone. Whether your goal is losing weight, getting out of debt, or finding a new job, consider finding a friend or family member who has a similar goal. Form an informal support group and encourage and motivate each other. Even if you can't find someone who is working on the same goal, try to find someone who can act as an accountability partner to help keep you on track.

Create a plan for slips and setbacks
A strategy for setbacks is just as important as a strategy for success. People who maintain their NYRs for at least two years report an average of 14 slips or setbacks during that time. The key, of course, is rebounding from setbacks, rather than letting them snowball into full-blown relapses. First, try to avoid the all-or-none thinking that triggers the snowball effect. Then, create a “setback plan” that you will enact at the first sign of a slip

Again, change isn't easy, but it's an important part of life. With some planning, a clear vision of your desired result, a workable action plan, and a system of rewards to motivate you along the way, you can defy the odds and achieve success in the New Year!

New Year’s Internet Resolutions
1. I will think before I post, "Do I want my mom, health care provider, insurer, reading this?" Before you expose any revealing or personal information on line, consider your audience. Think twice before blogging about your New Year's escapades or personal New Years’s Resolution.

2. I will be a stealthy surfing ninja. It's time to enter ninja-stealth mode. Know that you are being tracked on line, and that currently, consumers aren't protected by regulation or industry.

3. I will do an on line cleanse. Do you really need 2,000 plus Facebook friends or a massive Twitter following? Which databases does your personal information appear in? Which outdated social networks show up in your Google search? It's important to be aware of all the mentions and connections you have on line. Decide which content you would like to be representative of you and which information should not be revealed (i.e. home addresses, DOB, telephone numbers). Resolve to take control of how you appear on line by beginning the New Year with an Internet detox.

4. I will not slam anyone on line. In 2010 we saw the negative and often tragic repercussions of on line slamming and mudslinging. Cyberbullying took on extreme levels, at times more akin to cybertorture. On the business side, countless people lost their jobs as a result of tweets and posts that were not so well thought out. If your boss were within earshot, would you whine about how under appreciated you are or how you're planning to quit? Probably not. Comments are even more loud and permanent on the web. Internet attacks and slams are not productive or helpful to anyone; resolve to play nice on line this year. 

5. I will not over share. Over sharing on line has reached what can only be the zenith -- it must get better from here! Over sharing runs the gamut from harmless and banal Facebook updates to compromising and damaging tweets . While the impact of over sharing may not be felt immediately, remember the Internet never forgets and the triumphs of today may end up the tragedies of tomorrow.

The following New Year tips are from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

-I will clean up my toys and put them where they belong.
-I will brush my teeth twice a day, and wash my hands after going to the bathroom and before eating.
-I won’t tease dogs or other pets – even friendly ones. I will avoid being bitten by keeping my fingers and face away from their mouths.

Kids, 5- to 12-years-old
-I will drink 2% milk and water three times each day, and limit soda and fruit drinks to once each day.
-I will apply sunscreen before I go outdoors on bright sunny days. I will try to stay in the shade whenever possible and wear a hat and sunglasses, especially when I’m playing sports.
-I will try to find a sport (like basketball or soccer) or an activity (like playing tag, jumping rope, dancing or riding my bike) that I like and do it at least three times a week!
-I will always wear a helmet when bicycling.
-I will wear my seat belt every time I get in a car. I’ll sit in the back seat and use a booster seat until I am tall enough to use a lap/shoulder seat belt.
-I’ll be nice to other kids. I’ll be friendly to kids who need friends – like someone who is shy, or is new to my school
-I’ll never give out personal information such as my name, home address, school name or telephone number on the Internet. Also, I’ll never send a picture of myself to someone I chat with on the computer without my parent’s permission.

Kids, 13-years-old and up
-I will eat at least one fruit and one vegetable every day, and I will limit the amount of soda I drink to one glass daily.
-I will take care of my body through physical activity and nutrition.
-I will choose non-violent television shows and video games, and I will spend only one to two hours each day – at the most – on these activities.
-I will help out in my community – through volunteering, working with community groups or by joining a group that helps people in need.
-When I feel angry or stressed out, I will take a break and find constructive ways to deal with the stress, such as exercising, reading, writing in a journal or discussing my problem with a parent or friend.
-When faced with a difficult decision, I will talk about my choices with an adult whom I can trust.
-When I notice my friends are struggling or engaging in risky behaviors, I will talk with a trusted adult and attempt to find a way that I can help them.
-I will be careful about whom I choose to date, and always treat the other person with respect and without coercion or violence. I will expect the same good behavior in return.
-I will resist peer pressure to try drugs and alcohol.
-I agree not to use a cell phone or text message while driving and to always use a seat belt.