How to set more realistic New Year's resolutions

How to set more realistic New Year's resolutions


How to set more realistic New Year's resolutions


by JEANNE FAULKNER / myRegence Contributor

Posted on December 25, 2009 at 4:55 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:41 AM

Creating New Year's resolutions often sets us up for both success and failure. They give us a much-needed kick in the butt to take charge of our life, but too often we wind up with bruises. Self-evaluation and goal-setting are necessary for successful change and growth, but if we don't address the underlying causes for our behaviors, we're bound to fail. We start out with good intentions and then backslide, feeling discouraged, then we cycle back into the very same behaviors we're trying to change. There's got to be a better way.

The most popular resolution of all, weight loss, has countless people vowing, "Come January 1, I'm starting a new diet. This time I'm really going to do it. Yes sirree, I'm chucking out the junk food, exercising every day and cutting all excess calories." Uh-huh. Sure you are. Studies show the average life span of that particular resolution is about three weeks. Jill, who works in the membership department at 24-hour Fitness, puts it this way: "We get our biggest membership boost in January. People stick around until February or March. Then attendance drops way off."

According to some recent national surveys, the top five resolutions are:

  • Weight loss
  • Debt reduction
  • Increased family time
  • Fitness
  • Smoking/drinking cessation

Success is based on what goals you set and whether you approach them from a positive or negative standpoint. A negative approach (we'll call it the "take away" plan) magnifies the stuff you can't do or have, while a positive approach (the "give more" plan) focuses on the stuff you can. Personally, I don't like it when people take my stuff. If they take a lot of my stuff or keep it for a long time, I'm going to rebel.

Weight Loss
Take away: Cut calories, eliminate junk food, desserts, fatty snacks, high-calorie foods and anything in the sweet, crunchy or salty categories. Dang, that's harsh. Who's going to want to ride that train for more than a few weeks?

Give more: Add five servings of fruit and vegetables to your diet, and eat more healthy snacks every day. Drink more water (adding a slice of lemon or lime can jazz things up a bit). Add fun sports. Join a dance class. "Please have more" sounds better than "no, no, no." 

Debt  Reduction
Take away: No shopping, no eating out, no vacations--in short, no fun.

Give more: Realistically, you'll have to employ some "take away" measures if you're going to succeed, but it's important to add more, too. Read more about money management. Talk with credit counselors and knowledgeable friends about techniques for paying off debt. Form a money management club with friends to share ideas and provide ongoing support. Save up your change in a jar--that can really add up. Reward hard work with non-monetary items like time spent with friends. Host a potluck instead of meeting friends at a restaurant. Find free outlets for items you usually spend money on, like books, music and movies, which you can borrow from the library. 

Increased Family Time
Take away: Eliminate community involvement and time with friends, work fewer hours, quit your weekly squash game or book club. That might work for a while, until your boss and friends start complaining.

Give more: Set specific, achievable goals, like scheduling a family dinner three or four nights a week. Make a plan to spend one hour alone with each child. Enthusiastically greet your loved ones every time you enter the house. Arrange one family outing per month.

Take away: Give up spending time on the couch with a trashy novel. Say good-bye to lazy mornings with coffee and a muffin. Put down the TV remote on lockdown.

Give more: This goal naturally takes on a "give more" focus, since fitness requires more exercise. Success is dependent on forming realistic goals. If you have a codependent relationship with your couch and TV, committing to an hour of daily exercise might be unrealistic. Set more attainable goals: Try walking 30 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during your lunch hour. Add one after-work yoga class. Each month, add another fitness goal. Sign up for monthly consultations with a trainer or make weekly exercise dates with a work-out buddy. Treat yourself to TV or trashy novels only while using an exercise bike or treadmill. If you have an iPod or similar device, download podcasts and listen to them at the gym.

Smoking and/or Drinking Cessation
Take away: There's no way to quit a bad habit without taking away the offending behavior. You can't quit smoking by adding more tobacco or quit drinking by adding more booze. 

Give more: You can, however, add a nicotine patch, replacement drink (like sparkling water) and support groups. You can add more transparency and accountability to your goal by talking about it with friends and family. You can add more support and replacement activities. For example, if your evening routine includes a glass of wine as soon as you get home, replace that with a short walk and a cup of tea. Break your old habits by adding new ones.

Setting realistic goals and changing your perspective may make the difference between success and failure in achieving your New Years resolutions. Positive reinforcement for changed behaviors is motivating and rewarding. Studies show that people are more likely to engage in behaviors that feel good than those that feel bad. Common sense tells you that too. So, stay positive. And remember, more give and less take makes a healthier you.

About the Author

Jeanne Faulkner is a freelance writer and registered nurse in Portland, Ore. Her work appears regularly in Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, and she has contributed articles to the Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens, Shape and other publications.