It’s a cycle a lot of people are familiar with at the start of each New Year. This same time 12 months ago, they made several decisions to improve their lives, like going on a diet, quitting smoking, or spending more time with the family. Their failure to keep any of these spurs them to try again, while fighting against the guilt of past failures and the haunting suspicion that history will repeat itself.
The 2007-2008 research from S. Shapiro and the Opinion Corporation of Princeton, New Jersey states that 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Only eight percent truly become successful, while another 19 percent do fulfill them but only after every other year.
The reason for this low success rate can be traced to over-reliance on one’s willpower, according to two separate surveys conducted by two psychology professors: Richard Wiseman, a Briton, and John Norcross, M.D., an American. Many people look for inspiration from celebrities and other famous people, dream about success, and believe that simply willing it—or pushing themselves into fulfilling their resolutions—would be enough. Not enough room is left for planning or preparation. Without a concrete battle plan, even the most well-intentioned resolutions wilt under the pressure of work or peers.
Fortunately, failure does not mean forever. Here are a few guidelines on how to finally realize those resolutions you’ve been aiming for:
• Don’t get stuck in the past but move forward. Thinking of past failures will hold you back. Gutierrez advises starting with self-confidence, regardless of the number of times you’ve stumbled: “Believe in yourself that you can fulfill all your resolutions for nobody else will if you don't.” A study conducted by Dr. Norcross in 2002 and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology seems to support this; the very act of making a New Year’s resolution, or any decision to change, has already boosted your chances of self-improvement by 10 percent.
• Attach affirmations that will make you see the bigger picture to your resolutions to inspire you. Gutierrez elaborates, “If your resolution is to become punctual in meetings or submit your work on time, phrase it [this way] in your mind: ‘Be on time when others are not’ or ‘Punctuality is respect for other people’s time.’”
• Focus your energies and make your plans specific; start small with one or two small changes. A few years ago, voracious reader Marilyn could never finish a book because she had her hands full as a full-time housewife with small kids. One day, she resolved to read one chapter a day, even one paragraph at a time. Despite some days missed, she kept focused. Though she finished only two books in 2009, she completed nine the next year.
• Get peer support. Gutierrez says, “Talk about your resolutions with people you are in partnerships with, like your co-workers for work-related resolutions or with your spouse, siblings or relatives for personal resolutions.” When you feel like slacking or quitting, these peers will remind you of your dreams and encourage you.
• Remind yourself of what you stand to gain once you’ve reached your goals. Imagine yourself finally being able to wear the kind of clothes you’d like, receiving your boss’ compliment for turning in quality work on time, or taking a tour in your dream vacation spot with the rest of your family.
For more advice on how to keep those New Year’s resolutions for good, grab a copy of the December-January issue of HealthToday magazine, out now in newsstands and bookstores.