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January 9, 2008 > Success with Your New Year's Resolutions

Success with Your New Year's Resolutions

By Anne Chan, MS, MFT

I'm NOT going to make a resolution to lose weight this New Year's. Forget that!

I've made this same New Year's resolution countless times. But my promise to eat less lasts just about as long as it takes me to transport a luscious cream puff from the buffet table to my mouth.

One reason why my New Year's resolution inevitably fails is because it's too global and abstract. It's very hard to keep the momentum going with such a sweeping goal.

I would have much better success on my goal to lose weight if I broke it down to a more achievable, concrete goal, such as "I will go for one walk every week this coming year" or "I'll make sure I eat a healthy breakfast three times a week."

It also helps to frame a goal in terms of positive action rather than telling yourself not to do something. Think about it - is it easier for you to visualize yourself doing something or not doing something? For instance, it's easier to follow a direction that says "Turn left" -- this direction is clear, specific, and easy to follow. If I told you to follow a street sign that says "Don't turn right," - you'll get confused because you don't have a clear idea of what exactly you should do.

The same principle applies to New Year's resolutions. It's much easier for you to make a goal that allows you to do something rather than to not do something.

Couples and parents often make resolutions such as "I'll not yell so much" or "I won't get so angry." These are admirable intentions. However, to achieve these results, articulate what you want to do rather than what you don't want to do. Instead of saying, "I'll not get so angry this year," try visualizing what you want to see happen and formulate your resolution accordingly. Parents might visualize themselves being a more patient listener or being more positive with their children. They can formulate their goal as "I'll give positive feedback" or "I'll learn to ask for a time-out when I get mad so I can listen more patiently."

Setting up a positive, specific, concrete goal will put you on the right path toward achieving success with your resolution. But this does not guarantee that you will be successful. Here are a few more key things you can do to support your resolution:

Reward Yourself
Countless psychological experiments have shown the power of reward and positive feedback in shaping behavior. To make it even more likely that you will stick to your goal; make sure you reward yourself in a small, but tangible way, on a consistent basis. I might reward myself with a massage or a new book after I have done 10 walks. This notion of a reward is an important one - it's important to reinforce a new behavior that you are trying to implement.

Put It in Writing
A verbal contract is never as solid as a written one. Instead of just saying you will exercise more, try writing it in the form of a contract to yourself. Write the terms of the contract: what you will do, how you will do it, how often, etc. You can also add clauses to include rewards. Put this contract in a visible place where you can see it several times a day.

Get Support
Having a buddy exercise with you is one of the best ways to ensure you will stick to an exercise routine. Get whatever support you need to help you stick to your resolution. Some people ask their spouses or friends to check in regularly to help them stay accountable. Get an online buddy if you prefer more anonymity.

After reading this, I hope it makes sense to you why I am never going to resolve to lose weight. However, I am going to take one exercise class come January and have signed up for a low-impact aerobics class with a buddy. I will reward myself with a new (hopefully smaller) outfit at the end of the two-month class. I am also bravely putting all this in writing through this very public article.

I am better than anyone else I know at getting out of an exercise routine. Even Houdini, the master of getting out of tight spaces, couldn't beat me when it comes down to getting out of an exercise routine! But I feel confident that stating a positive goal, having support from my buddy, putting it in writing, and having a reward in place will keep me true to my word this time around.

I wish you and your family a very joyous New Year! Best of luck with your resolutions and let me know how it goes! I'd love to do a follow up on this story and am interested in your stories of how you achieved your resolutions.


Anne Chan is a licensed psychotherapist and career counselor in Union City. She specializes in helping people find maximum satisfaction in their careers and relationships. She can be reached at achan@midlabs.com or (510) 744-1781.

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