Individual Counseling, Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy

Successful New Year’s Resolutions: What You Need To Know Today

It’s that time of year again. It seems everywhere I turn I hear something about “New Year’s resolutions.” Sounds great, right? Combining the words “new” and “resolution” sounds so positive, what’s not to love? Well, let me tell you.

The Problem

Each year people create lofty goals they will probably fail to accomplish. Why? Well, it’s not because the goal itself is bad. After all, who can possibly argue against the merits of improving your diet, exercising, and saving money? Other than a  hedonist? Nobody, that’s who. But what we can argue about is the process by which these things get accomplished. In another words, the goals may be good, but the motivation and steps toward achieving them…not so much.

First of all, for those of you who know me at all know that I don’t like artificially created events. In the past, I have written against Valentine’s Day, for example. I have no problem with the sentiment behind the holiday, but I do have a problem with the pressure placed upon people to conform. I have the same problem with New Year’s resolutions.  More specifically, when outside pressure, as opposed to internal motivation, forces behavioral changes those changes are not nearly as strong as they would be if they were adopted more naturally. Therefore, by their very nature, New Year’s resolutions are destined to fail. And the more we set goals and fail to achieve them, the more discouraged we get, and eventually? We will give up. Not good.

The second major issue I have with New Year’s resolutions is in the execution. Most people do not understand what comprises well-formed goals, never mind appropriate steps to achieving them. Most of us will decide we are going to lose 30 pounds, for example. We do not think about whether this is a well-formed goal. (It is not).  Poorly formed goals also set us up for failure.

The Fix

First of all, don’t set goals just because the calendar says January 1. If this is an extra motivator, that’s fine, but you must be internally motivated as well. Wait until you decide you really want something, then set your goal. Even if the calendar says July 1 instead of January 1.

Second, set SMART goals. Well-formed goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound:

    • Specific. Specify exactly what it is you want to do. Vague goals are by definition unattainable; if we don’t know what the goal is how are we ever going to know we have reached it?
    • Measurable. We need a way of monitoring our progress. It is very helpful to break a large goal down into smaller steps that can be achieved fairly easily. This will help encourage us, which will give us energy to devote to our progress, which then leads to more progress, more encouragement, etc. It is this creation of a positive feedback cycle that will keep us motivated.
    • Attainable. Sure, we all may want to be millionaires, but it’s important to be realistic. There needs to be a very good chance that we can get what we want. Otherwise, we are just setting ourselves up to fail. When we fail, we get discouraged, and can set up a negative feedback cycle making future change more difficult.
    • Relevant. You need to feel passionately about your goal. You need to have “skin in the game”, as they say. If you are not invested in your goal, you will likely fail.
    • Time-bound. You need to add time limits to your goal, as well as each step to get there. Without time limits we can allow our efforts to stretch out to infinity, without actually accomplishing much at all. And what is the point of setting goals if we don’t make any progress?

So, the next time someone proudly declares their new year’s resolutions, you can smile inside, knowing that you are wiser.

Dr. Barb LoFrisco

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