By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
It’s interesting to me how invested people are in giving to others during the holidays, but how that energy seems to fade when faced with the New Year’s tradition of making a personal resolution. Those who make resolutions usually do so half-heartedly. More often than not, New Year’s resolutions fade away almost as quickly as our memory of what we ate for breakfast this morning. Even so, promising yourself that you will make some positive change in your life can place you on the path to self-improvement – if you approach it in an effective way and take the commitment seriously.
With this in mind, consider the following do’s and don’ts of making a New Year’s resolutions.
- Set a specific and realistic goal. I will lose 10 lbs by the end of February. People have a tendency to think that they can change more than is realistic to expect, leaving them unhappy with more modest results. For instance, in one study, people who set an unrealistic goal of losing 55 pounds in 48 weeks thought of themselves as failing when they lost 37 pounds (an amount that experts defined as realistic and significant). This type of thinking undermines hopes for, and motivation for, further change.
- Decide on a specific plan for self-improvement – the more detail, the better. Include objectives like: I will eat 3 balanced meals and two snacks each day. When people don’t clarify how they will achieve a goal, they tend to rely on pure willpower. This rarely works and often leaves people feeling more defeated and having less hope for future change (since in their minds, they have already tried and failed).
- Prepare yourself for set-backs. If I overeat at any point, it won’t undo my previous efforts. By getting right back to my healthy meal plan, I can still move toward my goal. By being overly confidant that they can meet their goals, people often set themselves up for failures. They think about any mistakes or periods of relapse as a failure, and they give up. By thinking of these times as bumps in the road, they can help themselves to succeed in the long run. Of course, it is extremely important to remember this when you relapse and to talk yourself through these difficult times.
- Make a resolution (on New Year’s eve or at any other time) that you don’t take seriously. People often half-heartedly say that they will make some self-improvement and then don’t put in the effort to make it happen. The result is that they don’t change, feel badly about themselves for failing, and then have less confidence in their ability to change in the future. Taking your goal seriously means doing all of those suggestions in the above section.
- Expect that any particular self-improvement will change your whole life. People set themselves up for feelings of failures when unrealistically placing too much importance on any one particular self-improvement. For instance, dieters are likely to be greatly disappointed if they expect that losing 50 pounds will directly translate into a job promotion or a happy, intimate relationship.
With all of the above do’s and don’ts in mind, you can turn the traditional New Year’s resolution into a meaningful exercise. It can help you to improve yourself in a significant way. After all you have done to give to others through the holidays, this is a wonderful way for you to acknowledge that you are important, too.
If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.