I Resolve To…This New Year, Learn How To Stay The Course

January 19, 2012
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Illustration by Sheilagh Casey

By Lisa Girard

Enter any gym on January 2 and it’s sure to be teeming with people of varying shapes and size, all determined to get in shape in the New Year. Visit that same gym a few weeks later and you can hear a pin drop. The same could probably be said about Weight Watchers meetings and smoking cessation support groups.

Why do so many people make New Year’s Resolutions and then fail to keep them? How could something of such high importance at the beginning of the year be all but forgotten in just a few short week, or in some cases even days, later?

“I chuckle inside when I hear those words, ‘New Year’s Resolution,’” says Bill McDonald, CPC, a Red Bank-based life coach. “I know folks mean well, and I also know from professional experience that those words are, inadvertently, a prescription for failure.”

According to an article published December 28 on Psychology Today’s website, people see the start of the New Year as a perfect time to make a big change in their lives. They’re usually pretty good about sticking to it the first couple of weeks, but by February they begin to backslide and by the following December are usually “right back to where they started, or even further behind.”

Yet about 50 percent of Americans continue to make New Year’s resolutions. The top five, according to McDonald, are: lose weight; get more exercise, improve your diet, get divorced, and some version of make more money or spend less. Stop smoking is another big one, and just as destined to fall by the wayside.

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McDonald calls New Year’s resolutions “a prescription for failure.” To change outcomes, we have to change our behaviors—and that takes more than a false promise made on January 1.

“Think about it: fat people keep eating ice cream, smokers see the surgeon general’s warning, and we all spoil our children beyond common sense,” McDonald says. “There’s a character within us all that will gladly recycle old outcomes and disappointments. Recognizing limitations is the beginning of reclaiming our personal power and authority. We are like Einstein’s version of insanity in that we keep expecting different results without changing our behavior.”

To his own clients wanting to make a change, McDonald asks what they’ve tried in the past that hasn’t worked. Once they establish a goal, he helps them come up with a plan so they can measure their success along the way and avoid the pitfalls. “The emphasis in coaching is, ‘What do you really want and how can you get there?’” he says. “Someone’s real goal in life is not to lose weight or stop smoking. Their goal is to live a long and healthy life. How you frame it can make a significant difference.”

Indeed, making resolutions work involves changing behavior. But in order to change a behavior, you have to change your thinking or “rewire” your brain, according to the Psychology Today article. The tips they suggest do just that:

  • Focus on one resolution, rather than several. Set realistic, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal, but losing 10 pounds in 90 days would be.
  • Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big, requiring too big a step all at once.
  • Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to.
  • Focus your thinking on new behaviors and thought patterns. You have to create new neural pathways in your brain to change habits.
  • Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve to make resolutions. Make it a year-long process, every day.
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“People ask me, ‘How long will this take?’” McDonald says, to which he answers, “It’s directly proportional to your ability to be honest with yourself.” And for his clients who ask if they should continue to make New Year’s Resolutions, he answers, “Just one: To never make a resolution again!”



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