A Dec. 30 CNN article reported that only about 40 to 45 percent of Americans plan to make New Year's resolutions this year. On the one hand, this figure struck me as a bit low. But considering I haven't put together a list of my own yet, I get it. Not that I don't resolve to improve myself (often). It's just that I tend not to limit these declarations to the calendar year's change. But a new year provides, at least symbolically, a new start, so it's a good time to reassess how we're living, as compared to how we want to be living.
According to www.usa.gov, the most popular resolutions year after year usually involve improving fitness and loosing weight, increasing volunteering efforts, getting a better education and/or job, managing debt, saving money, and reducing stress. Looked at summarily, what it boils down to is improving one's quality of life. I'll bet lots of us resolve to do that all year round.
In this spirit, I researched expert advice on the subject of New Year's resolutions, looking for patterns among disparate advice and identifying the key steps experts agree lead to success. So what makes resolutions stick, no matter what time of year they're made?
1. Make realistic goals
Always a good suggestion. If, for example, you're trying to lose weight, don't set a goal to lose 30 pounds in a month. Setting unrealistic goals sets you up for discouragement and failure. Acknowledge that change takes time, and commit for the long term.
2. Develop an action plan
Just desiring change isn't going to make it happen. Figure out what it will take to achieve your goals, and then articulate strategies for doing so. If you want to get into better shape, decide the how (yoga? dance classes? gym membership?), where, and when of it, keeping in mind realistic goals. I want to get into better shape, but getting up at 6 a.m. to do it? That's not going to happen, so I have to find activities I can do in the afternoon and evening.
3. Declare your intentions
Whether it's writing down your goals or sharing them with your friends, making some kind of verbal commitment goes a long way to codifying your intentions. Studies show that those who do this achieve greater success.
4. Take it one day at a time
Each day (like each new year) provides a new start, which means that if better eating habits are your goal, don't fret if you eat a (generously proportioned) piece of chocolate cake on Wednesday. Most likely, the sun will still rise on Thursday to provide you with another new day and fresh start. You haven't ruined everything. You just slipped up one day.
5. Don't beat yourself up when you backslide
I've yet to meet a perfect person. I'll wager that's true for you too. Experts agree—we're all going to slip up sometimes, and rather than berating ourselves, we'd do better to put it behind ourselves, and move forward. Just like coaches tell athletes after a bad play: have a short memory, and focus on what comes next.
So what do you think? Will you be making resolutions this year? Tell us in the comments!