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How to make your New Year’s resolutions work

Psychologists who study this stuff have sage advice about defining the goal, staying on track, and using some powerful mental toughness.

New Year launches those resolutions to do something better/bigger/lesser or more rewarding. Self-improvement becomes a Canadian mantra for the first week or two but threatens to be a distant memory by February unless a real plan is operational. Luckily there are some tips and tricks to stare down failure and score some gains.

According to research out of the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, 62 per cent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions either consistently (45 per cent) or sometimes (17 per cent) but only 8 per cent actually achieve their goals.

People try to lose weight, get more organized, spend less, enjoy life more, get/stay fit, learn more, quit smoking, etc. Self-improvement and learning goals represent 47 per cent of those polled while financial resolutions were 34 percent. As for staying power, 75 per cent of people hung in during the first week and after the first month it was down to 64 per cent. At six months, 46 per cent were still hanging in. Not bad, considering. However, according to the research, only 8 per cent of die-hard resolutionists actually achieve what they set out to do. Of them, 39 per cent were in their twenties and 14 per cent were 50 plus.

So how do they do it?

Everyone has their own approach but psychologists who study this stuff have some sage advice about defining the goal, staying on track, and using some powerful mental toughness. There are two reality checks about resolutions. They aren’t necessarily easy and results aren’t instant.

First, keep it simple. Forget large bucket lists, extreme make-overs, or a shoot-for-the-moon game plan. Those determined to be successful know from the get-go that changing a behaviour or a life-style is trickier than you think. So set a small, attainable goal that can be reached in a reasonable amount of time and set a clear direction for doing it.

Keep it focused. Having too many resolutions or resolutions that are too vague are doomed to failure. One clearly-defined resolution with a step-by-step process has a much better chance of success. And it paves the way for other goals to follow.

Keep it tangible. A resolution to lose weight would be better defined by a resolution to not eat cookies, pretzels, ice cream, or fried foods for six weeks. It’s much easier to see and measure something (or the absence of something) than trying to follow something vague and unmeasurable. Resolving to increase exercise would be better defined as resolving to always take the stairs not the elevator, walk 30 minutes a day, or follow a yoga routine.

Trending in recent years have been people sharing resolutions with family, friends, or on Facebook (not sure about the last one). The hype is that public knowledge of a goal makes someone stick to it. One lady in a Forbes online article blogged her resolution to deep-six a $24,000 debt and did so in 18 months, blogging her efforts to the digital cheers of others along the way.

Be a believer. The bumps in the road test resolve and, without a can-do belief system, confidence and focus can take a beating. Many will argue that resolutions are all about willpower but that in itself is a measure of mental strength and an ability to regulate emotions, manage thoughts, maintain a gritty level of positive behaviour, and accept that it could be a long haul to the end result.

The Scranton report emphasized that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than those who don’t. The bonus is that while resolutions may be a New Year’s activity they can result in a permanently enhanced lifestyle.