Making Resolutions You Can Keep
For many of us, January 1 brings a rush of new resolutions. Gym and weight plan memberships skyrocket, offices are organized, maybe you know someone who’s taking a one-month break from drinking for “dry January.” Resolutions are a part of our culture—about 44% of Americans are likely to make a New Year’s Resolution each year. But they aren’t a new phenomenon—4,000 years ago, the Babylonians used the new year to promise the gods they would pay their debts and return things they had borrowed; 2,000 years later, the Romans vowed to behave better in the coming year. Now, we mostly make promises to ourselves, but behaving better and getting a handle on our finances are still popular resolutions.
The New Year is still a popular time for resolutions. Researchers think this is because “temporal milestones”—distinct calendar dates such as holidays or important life events—motivate people to tackle their goals. But that initial motivation can fade—one study showed that only 46% of people stick with a resolution for more than 6 months.
Why are resolutions so hard to keep?
Resolutions often require us to break one habit on the way to creating a new one. Habits are just actions that we’ve repeated so many times we don’t really have to think about them anymore. Sometimes, that’s good. We put our keys in the same place every day. We brush our teeth, take a shower, and leave the house for work at the same time each day. We’re rewarded by knowing where our keys are, feeling clean, and not being late, and the rewards make us want to keep doing these things. Other habits might not be as good for us—we overeat, stay up too late, maybe smoke or drink too much. These habits might feel good (a reward), even if they’re not good for us. That’s why they’re so hard to break, and it’s so hard to replace them with better habits.
Tips for making resolutions you can keep
Just because a lot of resolutions fail doesn’t mean yours have to. Start by picking the right resolution. Many people make resolutions like “get in shape” or “lose weight,” that are simple but don’t have a lot of direction. Others make resolutions that are “stretch goals,” like losing 30 pounds, but that can be frustrating if you don’t see success quickly. Instead, set goals are those that are small, specific, and achievable. Think of them as baby steps—little steps on the path that get you to your bigger goal. So, instead of saying “I’m going to lose 30 pounds,” try “I’m going to lose 5 pounds a month for 6 months.” The way you word your goals can be important, too. Studies show that having an approach goal, like “I’m going to eat more fruit,” is more effective than an avoidance goal, like “I’m not going to eat snacks after dinner.” Here are some other tips from the National Institutes of Health for making healthy changes stick:
- Set realistic goals. Set goals that will let you see your success quickly and write down the steps that will help you achieve them.
- Plan for obstacles. No path to change is ever straight. Things will happen that slow you down. Figure out how to overcome obstacles, don’t give up just because you slipped.
- Track your progress. Keeping a journal or diary is one of the best tools for helping you stay focused and recover from slip ups.
- Get help. Ask friends and family for support. Consider enrolling in a class or program.
- Reward yourself. Give yourself a healthy treat when you’ve achieved a small goal or milestone.
- Add variety. Keep things interesting by adding new activities or expanding your goals to make them more challenging.
- Know your “why”. Defining your “why”—the reason you’re making the change—puts meaning behind your goal and makes it feel much more attainable.
Written by Cindy Maxim
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Please always follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Programs and services are subject to change. Managed Health Network, LLC (MHN) is a subsidiary of Health Net, LLC. The MHN companies include Managed Health Network and MHN Services, LLC. Health Net and Managed Health Network are registered service marks of Health Net, LLC or its affiliates. All rights reserved.