It's been over a week since the New Year. That cracking noise is the sound of many New Year's resolutions already being broken.
New Year's resolutions have become something of a cultural joke, however they can serve a purpose -- allowing us to focus and set priorities for a productive year. The goal is to make each year better than the last. That applies to nations as well as individuals. 2012 left Canada and the world facing some daunting challenges we have to tackle in 2013.
Canadian human rights: Last month Amnesty International gave Canada a failing grade on human rights. Our reputation has been tarnished by violence against aboriginal women; new refugee laws that take away the rights of some refugee claimants; new policies that allow our police and intelligence agencies to accept information gleaned through torture; Canadian law that still allows people to be deported to countries where they face torture; and the exclusion of human rights clauses from international trade agreements.
On April 26, the UN Human Rights Commission will conduct its periodic review of Canada. The Government of Canada must pay close attention to the Commission's recommendations, and make a plan of action to address our outstanding human rights issues.
Climate change: 2012 was a bad year for Canada and climate change -- we became the first country in the world to withdraw from Kyoto, and the international environmental organization Climate Action Network ranked Canada as the worst performer in the developed world on climate change. The Network says Canada is still megatons away from meeting our committed target of a 17 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020. Although we're not holding our breath, we're calling on the government to present a solid action plan in 2013 to meet that target.
Food and water: They're the essence of life, so why in the 21st century are we still struggling to ensure everyone has access to them? A 2012 study by the InterAction Council -- a policy group of 40 respected former world leaders like Nelson Mandela -- warned that by 2025 the world's agricultural demand for water alone will exceed the supply by one trillion cubic metres. Meanwhile The UN has warned that world grain reserves are so low that severe weather in any food-exporting countries could precipitate a widespread hunger crisis this year. Sadly, we can predict more calls in 2013 for emergency food aid donations, especially in Sub-Sahara Africa.
Mental health: In addition to gun control, the stunning tragedy in Newtown, Conn., provoked a national debate in America over mental health. It's a discussion we need to have in Canada. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness, at an estimated $50 billion cost to our economy. In May the Mental Health Commission presented a proposal for a mental health strategy which was welcomed by the federal government -- now the government needs to back that support with funding. Despite its occasional knocks, Canada is proud of its health care system. We need a mental health system we can be proud of too.
Aboriginal outrage: The Aboriginal "Idle No More" campaign is growing across Canada, while in Ottawa Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is nearing one month in her hunger strike to get a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Aboriginals are outraged the federal government didn't seek their input or consent before passing laws that they say impact their communities and violate constitutionally-entrenched treaty rights. The situation will flare in 2013 unless our government fulfills the promises it made last January to work in partnership with Aboriginal communities to address critical issues like education, clean water, housing, and employment
Women and girls: The hope and promise of the Arab Spring that began a little over two years ago is dissipating, especially for women. As countries like Tunisia and Egypt draft new constitutions, women's rights are being curtailed. Education for girls was thrust to the global forefront with the attempted assassination of Pakistani child activist Malala Yousafzai. On a more positive note, last November the UN Human Rights Committee passed a motion outlawing female genital mutilation. In 2013 we must keep the pressure on to advance the rights of women and girls.
Youth opportunity: Although there was a hopeful drop in the Canadian youth unemployment rate at the end of 2012, it's still almost double the overall national unemployment rate. Globally, the International Labour Organization in September said the future outlook for youth is "bleak" -- especially for young people in developing regions like North Africa and the Middle East where youth unemployment is over 25 per cent. When youth have no hope and no engagement in their society and economy, it's a recipe for greater social conflict.
If Canada and the world can make headway on all these issues, we can all celebrate next New Year with the pride of real accomplishment.
Why it's tricky: Despite good intentions, our nation (and everyone in it) just keeps getting heavier, found a recent report from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which also projected that obesity rates in every state are on course to top 44 percent by 2030. What's more, 13 states -- mostly in the South -- could have obesity rates above 60 percent! Make it stick: People tend to think about "losing weight" and "exercising" as two separate resolutions, says Norcross (click to the third slide). While he says science used to advise putting energy into tackling one behavioral change at a time, newer research from the University of Rhode Island has shown that combining two related resolutions (exercise more + lose weight, stop smoking + manage stress, save money + stick to a budget) makes it more likely you'll stick to both.
Why it's tricky: Personal savings rates are up (slightly), and (slightly) more Americans are feeling financially better off than worse off. Yay, right? Well, keep in mind that companies plan to offer raises of just 2.9 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Compensation Planning Survey and research by the compensation consulting firm Mercer, -- a percentage which barely keeps up with inflation. And many Americans are still making up for losses sustained over the past few years. Make it stick: Never say "can't." A study in the August 2012 Journal of Consumer Research looked at the power of language when we're trying to talk ourselves out of something. When participants framed a refusal as "I don't" (for example, "I don't waste my money on expensive lunches") instead of "I can't," they were more successful at resisting temptation.
Why it's tricky: While health club attendance surges 30 to 50 percent at the start of the year , it's usually back to normal by March, according to data from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. It's also hard to incorporate exercise into a busy life: Norcross himself admits that his resolution to exercise five times a week -- usually not a problem -- will be a major challenge when he's traveling. Make it stick: Research has shown that "self-monitoring" (a clinical term for charting or recording your progress) increases the probability of you keeping your resolution. This is due to the Hawthorne effect, which causes us to try harder when we think someone is keeping an eye on us. Try MyFitnessPal, a tracking app that's a streamlined upgrade of the paper fitness diary.
Why it's tricky: By the end of 2010, it took unemployed people on average 10 weeks to land a new job, or 20 weeks to give up looking (that's twice the amount of time it took job seekers to find something or give up in 2007). Make it stick: One of the major revelations in Changeology is that confidence is a big predictor of success: In this case, you need to not only believe that there are appealing jobs out there for you but also that you can realistically continue your search even when things aren't looking up.
Why it's tricky: Only 33 percent of adults eat the recommended daily amount of fruit, and only 27 get enough vegetables , found surveys from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Make it stick: Start by satisfying your afternoon munchies with an apple instead of a cookie. If you do this 10 times in a row, you'll actually start to crave the fruit at that time of day, says Susan B. Roberts, PhD, , a Tufts University professor of nutrition and a professor of psychiatry. This strategy has worked for many of the out-of-control snackers in the weight-loss groups she's led.
Why it's tricky: It takes the average smoker five to seven attempts to kick this habit for good, says Norcross. Make it stick: Smokers, take heart: Norcross has studied change for more than 30 years, and despite cigarettes' addictive power, his data shows that this resolution is not harder (or easier) to stick to than any other. The thing to remember, he says, is that every smoker relapses. He adds that one study showed that 71 percent of successful resolvers claimed that their first slip actually strengthened their efforts to quit.
Why it's tricky: We don't know how to give ourselves a break, even when we deserve it. In 2010, Americans neglected to take 424 million paid vacation days that were due to them. Make it stick: This resolution is so vague, it basically sets you up for failure, says Norcross. In fact, it's pretty close to wishful thinking, which, as Norcross mentioned, has only a 4 percent chance of success. Find a strategy that helps you achieve your overall goal (for example, meditating more, drinking less, using your vacation days) and then figure out a way to measure it. One of Norcross' colleagues has taken this to heart: He's resolving to "sit less" this year, so he's tracking the percentage of computer time he spends sitting versus standing or using his laptop on the treadmill.
Why it's tricky: You can't force the other person in the relationship to make the same resolution. Make it stick: Find specific ways by which you can strengthen your connection, says Norcross. Instead of resolving to, say, talk to your young son more, do what one of his successful study participants did: Resolve to spend 10 minutes a day with your son before bed.
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