How to Make a New Year’s Resolution You Will Actually Keep and a few Tips To Making Them Stick By Michelle Lines Clinical Psychologist and Specialist in Anxiety and Depressive disorders in Children, Adolescents and Adults. www.resolvetherapy.co.uk As a Psychologist, I help my clients with changing behaviours, and at the end of the year I usually ask my clients how many of them have made New Year’s resolutions that failed. Most have done. In fact, many people respond that they have stopped making New Year’s resolutions because they don’t work. The reason that resolutions fail is that people don’t put in enough effort to allow them to succeed. The things we resolve to change in our lives are generally the systematic failures in our lives. For instance, people often resolve to get in shape, stop smoking or drinking, or to get more serious about establishing a career. But even if you want to make a change, it is not easy to make systematic changes in your behavior. We have habits that get in the way of achieving our goals. We also have constructed an environment that supports our behavior and have surrounded ourselves with people who help us. You first have to focus on positive goals rather than negative ones. A positive goal is an action you want to perform; a negative goal is something you want to stop doing. Your habits are memories of actions you perform in a particular situation. You can’t learn not to do something, so if you focus yourself only on stopping behaviors, you will never develop new habits. For example, when I was growing up, I used to bite my nails. I would resolve periodically to stop biting my nails, but that never worked because I would eventually return to my old habit. When I was in University, I observed my own behavior, and discovered that I bit my nails primarily when sitting at my desk studying. So, I bought a bunch of desk toys and started playing with them instead. It is awkward to bite nails while playing with a toy. I now have the habit to play with desk toys, but I no longer bite my nails. More people also need to make realistic plans for what they want to change about themselves. If you want to start going to the gym more often, it is not enough to say that you want to go to the gym three times a week. Where is that going to fit on your calendar? You need to pick specific days and add that to your agenda. Unless you get specific, you will have a hard time identifying all of the obstacles that will get in your way. Put the gym on your calendar Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. That is specific enough to give you a fighting chance of succeeding. People need to make changes to their environment as well. We tend to do things that are easy. A big key to behavior change is to make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard. During the past 50 years, the successful public health campaign to get people to stop smoking has succeeded in part because it is now virtually impossible to smoke in public buildings. As a result, people in the workplace or in restaurants or bars can’t just pick up a cigarette and light it. They have to walk outside. The undesirable behavior has been made hard to do. Finally, after New Year’s Day, you need to be kind to yourself. Real behavior change is hard. There are days when you will succeed and others when you will fail. On the days you fail, treat that as an opportunity to learn about what to do in the future rather than as a reason to give up. People really can succeed with their New Year’s resolutions. They just have to plan ahead and follow some of these tips: 1) Clearly define your goals. Many people in the spirit of New Year’s loudly proclaim goals such as, “This is the year I’m going to finally get in shape.” But what does that mean? Do you intend to lose a certain number of pounds? Reach a body-fat percentage goal? Run three miles without rest? Bang out 10 pull-ups? Whatever your goals are they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). The first step to behaviour change is to clearly understand what “it” is. 2) Track your progress. “If you can measure it, you can change it” is a fundamental principal of psychology. These measurements will be a source of motivation as you reflect on where you started and where you are. They will also help you to identify plateaus or “sticking points” in your progress so you can adjust your efforts. 3) Have patience. You must set realistic goals and realize that progress is never linear. Some people will see rapid gains only to hit resistance later in their efforts. For others, initial progress may be painfully slow but then they suddenly achieve rapid breakthroughs. Making lasting changes takes time. 4) Publicize your goals to friends and family. As embarrassing as it might be to announce your specific resolution to the world, social support is critical. Yes, it takes some personal courage and vulnerability to share something that you might actually fail at, but to dramatically increase your odds of success you’ll want support from those around you. 5) Put it on your schedule. How often do you hear people say they can’t “find the time” to do something. Nobody finds time. We all choose to spend our time the way we do—whether that’s eating junk food or going to a spin class. Make your new goals a priority and actually schedule them into your calendar. If you have a fitness goal, schedule time for your workouts. If you want to declutter, schedule time to clean out your closet on your calendar. If you want to save money, put in a weekly budget review onto your Sunday afternoons. Think of these time blocks as important appointments—just like an appointment with a doctor. Don’t automatically schedule something else over them. That which is scheduled gets done! 6) Stop “all or nothing” thinking; it is better do something than nothing. Are you guilty of “all or nothing” thinking? Do you ever think, “Well, I might as well get dessert since I already ate those French fries?” And then, “I blew my diet last night so I’ll just restart it next week.” The difference between doing something rather than nothing is huge. If you don’t have a full hour to workout at the gym, just decide to make it the best 20-minutes you can. If you have a slight cold or minor injury, decide to just walk the track for a couple miles. If you have a financial emergency and can’t save your full 10% this month, just save what you can. The bottom line is, any effort towards your goal is better than no effort. 7) Get up, when you slip up. None of us are perfect. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “It isn’t whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.” Resiliency is the key. Don’t turn relapses or temporary failures into total meltdowns or excuses for giving up. Instead, just acknowledge the mistake and recommit to the path. I firmly believe that achieving our goals isn’t about willpower. It’s about developing the right skills and strategies that, with patience, will lead to success. Keep these seven secrets in mind in 2016, and you will be celebrating your success later in the year.