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Sticking to Our Resolutions

Sticking to Our Resolutions
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What is it about this time of year and resolutions? It is a tradition that dates back as far as the Babylonians. However, I think guilt and overindulgence have been around a lot longer than that. From the initial stages of modern day humans, I am sure that we have made promises to ourselves about changes we needed to make in our lives. In those early days, perhaps it was a promise to never take on a Wooly Mammoth without the proper back up or never to drink as much mead ever again. Either way, these resolutions are rooted in promises to ourselves that are as old as our vices and desires for rebirth.

The beginning of a new year seems like a logical enough place to start over again. However, is there something about this time of year that makes us feel the need for a renaissance? No doubt that as we step up our overindulgence index during the holidays we tend to feel guilty. Yet, many of the habits we wish to change are things that were issues for us well before the holidays. Could it be that in the dark days around the winter solstice that we see our bad habits in a different light? Could it be that when the cold of winter sinks deep into our bones and our hedonistic ways are paralyzed we are finally able to realize that something has to change? When we look back upon a year’s worth of things we should have done or not done, the need for some sort of change becomes that much more pronounced. Whatever the reason, this is the time when we make more promises to ourselves than any other. Unfortunately, keeping those promises is not as easy as making them.

According to a 2007 study conducted by Richard Wisemen of the University of Bristol, 88% of those who make New Year’s resolutions fail at them.  With statistics like that, one has to wonder whether it is worth making a resolution at all. But don’t get discouraged. Wisemen did find some heartening numbers that may keep us on the path to a better us. In his study he also found that people were 22% more likely to achieve their goals if they quantified the resolution they wished to make. For example, instead of making your goal to lose weight, it is important to say how much weight and at what rate the weight will be lost. If you set a goal of one to two pounds a week, we have an actual means of measuring how effective our weight loss resolutions are over the course of time. The same goes for people who smoke. Those of us who picked up the habit a long time ago have struggled with giving it up for years. The key is to set realistic goals for ourselves. Start with a one day resolution; parlay that into a one week resolution, and so on until you have kicked the habit altogether. The important thing is that you don’t set a goal that is unrealistic and thus unattainable.  Rather than making some abstract promise to ourselves, if we set realistic and measurable goals we will be much more successful at keeping them during the coming year.

Another way to make sure we stick to our resolutions is by letting others in on our plans. Wisemen’s study also showed that people were 10% more likely to keep to their resolutions if they made those resolutions public. By telling people what our resolutions are we are not only promising these things to ourselves but creating expectations in others who will keep us on the path. As Frank Ra, author of A Course in Happiness, says, “Resolutions are more sustainable when shared, both in terms of with whom you share the benefits of your resolution, and with whom you share the path of maintaining your resolution.” Family and friends are our support system. If they are aware of certain changes we want to make in our lives, they will help us along our difficult path to making those resolutions a reality.

While these are some helpful tips, I believe another element of this resolution making process merits consideration. Why exactly do we make these resolutions so punitive? By setting goals that are beyond our reach, we are creating a negative dynamic that does nothing to help us become the people we wish to be. Just why are we so inclined to give up things rather than take things up? Instead of giving up eating some of our favorite foods, why can’t we take up exercise? I realize that there are some things that we need to remove from our list of habits, but by substituting those habits with healthier and more productive activities, we may actually fill the void left by giving these things up. This will inevitably lead to more success with our resolutions.

Whether you are planning to give things up or take things up, I hope that you make your goals for 2016 the realistic and healthy desires that will make you the person you wish to be. If you choose to take on the challenges involved, with a little common sense and a healthy understanding of yourself and your limitations, you can make them come true. Good luck!



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