Many of us will begin the new year with a celebration, while many will also use it as a time for self-reflection. As we look back over the previous year, mistakes are contemplated, regrets are recognized, new goals are considered and, with that, many of us set a New Year's resolution. However, most of us won't stick to our resolutions.
According to research from the University of Scranton, only 14% of people over the age of 50 will achieve their resolution each year. This is disappointing, but not without reason. If we understand why it's hard to stick to resolutions, we can find ways to have more success.
Change Requires Motivation
We don't change or meet goals just because we decide to. We have to have the drive and inspiration to pursue something in spite of the obstacles in our way. Many times, our biggest obstacle is ourselves.
Let's take dieting, for example. No surprise, losing weight is one of the top New Year's resolutions. It involves discipline, stamina and self-control, as well as changes in lifestyle, and making better decisions.
Behavioral changes need to be learned and practiced if a diet is to be successful. Having a salad instead of a burger and skipping dessert are not easy to implement and, for many, require painful discipline. Same thing with starting an exercise program, also a top resolution: discipline and sustaining motivation is tantamount.
It's hard to execute a change, which is why many people wait until the new year. Problem is, when it comes to life changes, planning to change isn't the same as doing it. Just because it's New Year's and we decide to make a resolution doesn't mean we're going to be able to stick to it.
Why Waiting Until The New Year Is Procrastination
When I hear patients' stories about setting New Year's resolutions or not being able to keep them, I always want to understand why. Why did someone choose New Year's to make the change, and why did they stop?
For many patients, waiting for the new year to make a change is a form of procrastination. One patient kept putting her diet off, rationalizing with a range of excuses. She finally decided to start in the new year. Three weeks in, she described frustration and a sense of failure. She couldn't stick to her resolution and reported eating more poorly than before the new year.
The motivation to change wasn't there. She wanted to change intellectually, but lifestyle changes are difficult and require sustained motivation. Just because it's New Year's doesn't mean the change gets any easier. People who are truly ready to make a change likely won't wait until the new year.
4 Tips To Help You Stick To Your Resolutions
At the same time, I don't want to dissuade people from implementing desired change. If the idea of starting in the new year provides motivation, then please stick to your plan. Here are four ways to help you succeed.
1. Set small goals to start.
Place small, incremental goals within a larger goal. For example, if you want to begin a regular exercise program, don't impose a "I'm going to the gym five days a week" plan. Instead, make that a long term goal, something to aspire to by the end of the year. Make the initial goal to go to the gym two to three days a week. Even walking for 20 to 30 minutes, a few days a week, is an excellent start.
2. Commit to a group.
Joining a group with others who share the same goal provides both support and accountability. For example, attending Weight Watchers meetings can be immensely helpful for staying on track with dieting.
3. Be honest with yourself.
This is important, because setting an unrealistic goal and failing is worse for motivation than never setting the goal in the first place. There is a difference between wanting to do something and being motivated to follow through. Think about why you may have had difficulty setting goals in the past, and why you didn't set your upcoming goal earlier in the year. What are your personal obstacles? And how can you stay motivated in the face of them? Being aware of these personal vulnerabilities can help you work through waning motivation and keep you on track.
4. Don't get stuck in black-and-white thinking.
If you make a goal, don't force yourself into an all-or-nothing trap. Set the aforementioned small goals and try your best to stick to them. But old habits are hard to break and new ones are hard to sustain; cut yourself a break if you have an off day. For example, if you've gone off your diet one day, or even a few, this doesn't mean you've failed. It means you're human. Don't give up. Forgive yourself and keep moving toward your aspiration.
Dr. Jacqueline Simon Gunn is a Manhattan-based clinical psychologist and author. She holds master's degrees in both forensic psychology and existential/ phenomenological psychology, and has a doctorate in clinical psychology. Her specialties include eating disorders, trauma, interpersonal and relationship difficulties, alternative lifestyles and sports psychology.
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