New Year's resolutions: Don't set yourself up for failureNew Year’s resolutions don’t have to be a set-up to failure. Here’s how.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Ah, the New Year.
Nothing quite beats that delicious feeling that all things are possible, that barriers to happiness can be eliminated and self-improvement is actually within reach.
Some of us use this opportunity to take inventory of our lives — an unflinching look at our bodies, relationships, finances, messy desks — and set goals aimed at creating change.
We make New Year’s resolutions.
Studies show we often fail long before Valentine’s Day rolls around.
So what exactly are the pitfalls that predictably hijack our good intentions?
Are there tricks to avoiding those pitfalls and increasing your chances of reaching your goals?
Is it even worth it to make resolutions?
“A lot of people try to make personal overhauls in January,” said Tai Mendenhall, assistant professor of family and social science at the University of Minnesota.
“They say, ‘I’m going to spend more time with my family, go to the gym more often, drink less, stop smoking, save more money, learn Spanish, volunteer for the church, organize my office,” he said.
“It’s a set-up to fail. Where do you start?”
He recommends making one resolution at a time, and being specific.
“Specific is huge,” he said. “‘I’m going to work out more’ or ‘I’m going to lose weight,’ is never going to work.
“Much better to say, ‘I’m going to lose 10 pounds by my birthday’ or ‘I’ll go to the gym three times a week.’ You can track that. It’s tangible.”
“Any time somebody sets a goal and works to achieve it, you can see positive change, even if it’s temporary,” said Lisa Hawley, a clinical social worker at Advanced Counseling for Change in Devils Lake, N.D..
Achieving a goal in an area that’s difficult for us takes discipline, she said.
“Sometimes, we spoil ourselves. It means self-discipline, saying ‘no’ to things we’d rather be doing, rather than doing the things we should be doing.
“Trying to achieve a goal becomes work. It becomes a job — something that’s not always fun. It’s easier to eat that cheesecake rather than say ‘no’ to it and go exercise.”
To achieve your resolution, you need to work at it daily, she said. “Remind yourself of it, and keep that goal in your thoughts and in your plans.”
She recommends hanging a note on the bathroom mirror or your steering wheel with the goal statement clearly in view.
“The more you focus on the goal, the more likely you are to succeed,” she said.
Using a calendar, Hawley suggests marking one day a week to “check in with yourself.”
“Analyze how well you’re doing towards achieving your goals. Ask ‘what do I need to do this week?’ And ‘what can I learn from last week in order to do better this week?’”
It’s an emotional battle to change old habits, she said.
“They say it takes 28 days to form a new habit. When you hit 28 days, set it again for another 28 days. Continuing to push yourself toward that goal makes it easier to achieve.”
It’s important to set achievable goals, Hawley said.
“If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Instead of trying to lose 100 pounds in three months, it may be better to set a goal of losing 3 pounds in one month.”
An unrealistic goal may be too frustrating and difficult, she said. “You tend to give in to other things.”
She recommends spending less time looking at the problem and more on the solution, otherwise “you don’t get anywhere.”
“I think of goals as a kind of stairway,” she said. Each step of the way gets you closer to your goal.
“If it takes too long to reach success, you could give up.”
She suggests modifying your goal as you go, “because life is ever-changing.”
“People who are most successful pick realistic goals and work hard toward achieving them.”
When it comes to resolutions, Bev Benda, a licensed registered dietician who works with clients as a board-certified coach in Grand Forks, is skeptical.
“Usually, I try to talk them out of it,” she said, because “when you look at the statistics, resolutions don’t work.”
Instead, she tries to find out what’s behind them. “Losing weight or exercising more, usually they’re stress-driven…. We have to get control of our stress.”
Too often the goal may be so big, so overwhelming, that it’s easy to fail, she said.
She suggests breaking it into “the tiniest action steps,” for example, making an appointment to tour the fitness center or figuring out what you’re going to wear to work out.
“Many a fitness goal have been thwarted because the person didn’t have the right clothes to wear to work out.”
Chances of success improve if you set a definite start- and end-time for each step, she said.
“Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to clean the garage Saturday,’ you break it down to ‘I’m going to clean this area of the garage between 9 and 11 on Saturday.’
“When it’s done, praise yourself for what you’ve accomplished.”
Words are powerful tools in making personal changes, she said. “We use our words to create our reality.
“When people use words like ‘I can’t…’ or ‘I never could do…’ they put themselves in a helpless state.
“Say instead, ‘I am becoming a saver’ or ‘today I’m losing weight.’ It’s amazing how that works. Put some faith in yourself.”
She also recommends people not focus so much on Jan. 1.
“I ask them, ‘what makes you think you’ll have more motivation then than you have now?’
“This is the place and the moment to start the journey to anywhere you want to go. Start today.”
Making changes in behavior are much more likely to be a successful if they’re done in connection with other people, said Mendenhall.
“If you’re only accountable to yourself, it’s easy to choose not to do something,” such as working out with a friend at the gym, when the idea of vegging out on the sofa sounds so much more appealing at the end of a long day.
But because you’ve agreed to meet your friend, you go, he said. “By making this commitment public, you’re accountable for it. You’re accountable to each other.”
In relationships, “there’s so much power and traction when you try to make behavioral changes in your life.”
Mendendall said that spending more time with family is a “very common” resolution that people make, according to research studies.
But many run around tending to inconsequential tasks while ignoring the most important people in their lives.
“People are so busy that they’re really taking for granted the most important people in their lives.
“The house looks beautiful and the laundry is all done, but our relationships are crumbling,” he said. “You get a diabetes diagnosis but, ‘hey, at least we’re caught up on email and Facebook.’”
He recommends that people who want to improve their relationships with spouses or partners start by declaring that they are recommitting to the relationship and planning time together, such as a regular “date night.”
If you slip up in your attempt to reach your goals, don’t make it a catastrophe, he said.
He likens it to that squiggly line, with its ups and downs, that charts a company’s progress in the stock market.
“If you look at every movement every day you’re going to make yourself psychotic,” he said.
Reaching goals is a long-term proposition. If it’s trending up, that’s good.
On the way to your goal, backsliding is inevitable.
“If you take it in all or nothing terms, you just stop,” he said. “We’re not perfect. You just get back in. It’s OK.”