Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a University of Alabama at Birmingham clinical psychologist, points out that New Year's resolutions, as many people make them ("lose weight," "quit smoking," "save money," etc.) generally are a waste of time.
"Many of us wind up making short-lived changes that rarely pan out. We resolve to be different or live better, and then spend a year not achieving these goals. We waste time making unmet resolutions yearly," said Klapow, who also is the author of Living SMART: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever.
That doesn't mean that resolutions are worthless, however. According to Klapow, Jan. 1 can be an ideal time to make some positive changes – but you need a plan that goes beyond feeling inspired by a shiny new calendar year.
If you want to lose weight, for example, then get serious about it. Outline the days and times you will go the gym, the menu adjustments you will make and which family members or friends can help keep you accountable to these goals.
But no matter how detailed your plan, Klapow adds, if your heart isn't in it, then you’ll probably fail. So be honest with yourself to see if you really intend to meet that goal. He also advises resolution-makers not to be too ambitious; to set short- and long-term goals; to be prepared to make adjustments to resolutions; to keep a written record of your progress (and roadblocks); to note your barriers to success and how to overcome them; and give yourself incentives to meet the resolution.
"You have to be good to yourself and your new behaviors," Klapow said. "The principle is simple: Reward a good behavior, and it will happen again."
Attainable Resolution Suggestions
Another expert has some advice for focusing on attainable goals in the new year.
"I think most people make resolutions that they don’t achieve for many reasons, often because they seem so overwhelming," said William McCann, Psy.D, director of behavioral science education in Wake Forest Baptist’s family medicine department. "So, from a psychological perspective, we should make resolutions that we are sure to be able to follow through on. While it seems counter intuitive, we should lower our expectations because we want to be able to say to ourselves by next Dec. 31st – 'I did it!'"
Here is a list of reasonable, attainable resolutions, courtesy of McCann:
· "I will eat a little less fried food this year."
· "I will drive a little more slowly this year."
· "I will help others a little more this year."
· "I will interfere in my children's lives a little less this year."
· "I will talk a little less and listen a little more."
· "I will smile a little more this year."
· "I will be a little better person than I was last year."
"Doing a little bit is like a seed that might grow," McCann said. "Start little and see what happens this 2012."