Resolutions? Bah. Humbug

I am highly skeptical of New Year’s resolutions–to save money, to eat healthier, to stop smoking–and yet I still believe in them.

The Smoke Torredor, from the Permanent Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago

After the Bullfight by Mary Cassatt, from the Permanent Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago

At our gym, we know that January is the worst month to work out.  The machines that are usually free throughout the year will be filled with sweating, overzealous people who trudge through their workouts with grim determination.  We jokingly refer to them as the “resolutions”–and wonder how long they will last.  Some will stay for a few weeks.  The rare few will last a month or more.  Usually by early February, a handful of us “regulars” have the gym back to ourselves.

Being a data-driven person, I’ve checked the numbers, which show that 40% of all Americans make resolutions.  But only 8% of people will keep them.

But still, I am a firm believer in self improvement.  I don’t want to abandon my goals to eat healthier this year and exercise more.  I also want to write the first draft of my new novel in 2015.  So, what should I (and those of you who are like me) do?

First, let’s take a closer look at the numbers and the goals themselves.  Why is the success rate so low? The experts say many people make common mistakes:

1.  Their goals are unrealistic.  The woman who told me that she was going to work out for 3 hours a day was doomed to fail.

2.  Their goals are vague.   People promise:  “I’m going to get in shape.”   Or, “I’m going to get a degree.”  But the specifics are lacking and so the goals are more easily abandoned.

3.  They lose faith.   On the road of good intentions, people invariably hit “bumps.”  They go off their diets and eat candy, or they spend too much for the latest iPhone.  When people blame themselves and believe their willpower is weak, they falter and abandon their goals.

So, how can we reach our self-improvement goals?

1.  Set realistic, specific goals.  For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to volunteer more,” resolve to dedicate  a specific number of hours per week or per month to a specific organization.

2.  Make sure the goals are measurable.  So, instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight this year,” resolve to lose a specific number of pounds per month.

3.  Keep your goals simple.  Mix in some easy ones along with the harder ones.   For example, include your resolution to try Indonesian food, along with your intention to manage stress.

4.  And finally, keep the faith.  Dr. Norcross, a clinical psychologist at Scranton University, points out that the low success rates in keeping resolutions are deceptive.  In 2 longitudinal studies, he discovered that 46 percent of the people kept their resolutions for 6 months or longer.  That number may seem low, but in fact, the chances of success are much higher once you formally articulate a resolution.  So for those people who desired to make a change, but didn’t make a resolution, their success rate was dramatically lower.  In fact, less than 10 percent attained their goals–as the chart below indicates.

From Talk of the Nation, NPR

From Talk of the Nation, NPR

So keeping all of this in mind, what are your resolutions going to be this year?  Are they among the most popular resolutions made by Americans?  (Yes, the United States government has apparently researched this too.)  Here’s the list from the usa.gov website:

  • Lose Weight
  • Volunteer to Help Others
  • Quit Smoking
  • Get a Better Education
  • Get a Better Job
  • Save Money
  • Get Fit
  • Eat Healthy Food
  • Manage Stress
  • Manage Debt
  • Take a Trip
  • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
  • Drink Less Alcohol

What can you do to make your goals more measurable, specific, and realistic–and therefore more attainable?  For example, I have resolved to manage my stress by practicing meditation for 15 minutes a day at least 3 times a week.  (Every day would be great, but so far I haven’t been successful at attaining this goal.)

I wish you every success in attaining your self-improvement goals this year and encourage you to articulate them here as a way of verbalizing your intentions.  Let me also extend a special thanks to you all for helping me realize my goal in 2014 to reach a wider audience here at Word Press.  Your support has been marvelous.  I am grateful to you all.

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18 replies »

    • Absolutely. Think of the savings in healthcare costs alone! It would be a huge benefit. Thanks, Colline for your thoughts! Do you follow an exercise plan? I do and it feels so good AFTER exercising! –Patti

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      • My work commitments in the last two years made me abandon my plan. I am trying out new routines now, though, to try find one that would now suit me best.

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      • That’s the key, I’ve found too. The plan has to work with your other work commitments. I’m so happy that I no longer “battle” with myself about whether I should work out or not. Now, I just do it!!

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  1. Great tips! It’s a great suggestion to make goals measurable. Vague resolutions are too easy to abandon.
    Have you read Gretchen Rubin’s blog? She is working on a new book about how people form new habits, which you might find interesting.

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    • Hi Jackie. Yes, I occasionally read Gretchen Rubin’s blog. I’ll check it again! Thanks for the tip. It is about forming new habits…like putting less sugar (and eventually no sugar) in my tea. I wish I could stop “cold turkey” like my husband…Some habits die hard!

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  2. I agree completely with the resolutions. There must be some sort of symbolism or inclination to associate the new year with “new beginnings”, yet, I question this whole notion of “time” and what one does with it and when. Great thoughts Patti.

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    • Hi Maria. Yes, there is a long history–both religious and secular–related to new year’s resolutions. It seems ingrained in most of us! And yes, it’s tempting to see time as the enemy in these cases when we are trying to establish new and better habits. I am trying not to fix a timeline to these changes. I think it’s self-defeating. I’d rather think of each day as a new beginning and a new opportunity. What about you?

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      • Definitely Patty, and you are one of the few that have spoken about this. Each day and moment are new beginnings, of course, we have to be open to them. Time, even considering historical calendars stemming from ancient archeological findings, cannot be measured in a “timeline”. All one may have are “guidelines” , but even the present moment can change all of that. Consider the concept of “space-time” proposed by figures such as Einstein. And it didn’t even take Einstein, many Eastern philosophies have a clear notion of what time is… without looking at a calendar.

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  3. Absolutely, Maria! As creative artists, we know that time is elastic and can expand or shrink depending on what we are doing at that moment. I feel like I slip back and forth between our time-driven society, which measures “progress” by minutes and hours and accomplishments, and the more liberating non-chronological “time” inhabited by artists, mystics, visionaries… Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. Fascinating!

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  4. Good thoughts rolling into the new year Patti. I for one wish all the January exercisers would pick a different month to start their programs! It’s the hardest month for those of us who are committed to working out to get near the equipment😒 I like your meditation resolution too. Might have to borrow that one!

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  5. Feel free to “borrow” it, Tina! That reminds me that the week is more than half way over and I haven’t meditated yet! Oops. I better get going on that! Good luck on keeping your resolutions!–Patti

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