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Mind Matters: Making realistic resolutions for the new year

December 24, 2018

As you read this, New Year’s Eve will be a week away. Some find this a reason to rejoice. Others find it a reason to celebrate. Still others find it a reason to panic. No matter your take on the start of the new year, one thing is usually constant in the way we all usher in January first each calendar year. We make resolutions.

According to Wikipedia, New Year’s resolutions have been made in the Western and the Eastern hemispheres for hundreds if not thousands of years. Babylonians promised their gods that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. Romans made promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.

Christians attend Watchnight services, praying and resolving to do better in the year ahead. At the end of the Great Depression, about a quarter of adults made resolutions. In more modern times, 40 to 50 percent of us do so. Of that number, about 46 percent of us keep the resolutions or consider ourselves successful in keeping the promise we make in public or private to change something significant. Some studies show that as few as twelve per cent keep their resolutions, even though well over half were quite positive about being able to do so at the stroke of midnight on January first.

What do we resolve to do? Quit smoking, lose weight, go to the gym, spend less money, read more, get out of debt, take a trip, go back to school, repair a broken relationship, be more spiritual, or spend less time on social media. All noble enterprises and goals to be sure. All things that would make us smarter, healthier, more prosperous, more generous and more socially connected with those we care about. So why is it so difficult to make these resolutions and then to follow through and keep them until at least past Valentine’s Day? If we are honest with ourselves, we make unrealistic promises, they are much too vague to track, we grow tired of trying to assess our progress and sometimes we simply forget that we even entered into the bargain at all.

If you feel that you must make New Year’s resolutions, how should you tackle this first item on your to do list for 2019?

First, set a reasonable goal. If you resolve to lose weight, plan to lose two pounds per month, a very doable goal, for the first six months of the year. When you have lost twelve pounds, it will be even easier to set another goal around the July Fourth holiday to carry you the rest of the way until next December.

Second, keep track of your progress. If you resolve to exercise three times per week, do this with a partner or a group, so that you have help holding yourself accountable. There is nothing like having someone call you up to ask why you are not at the gym when you promised you would be.

Third, reward yourself along the way. When you reach that 12 pounds of weight loss, take a half day off from work and complete a five mile hike in a nearby park with a friend.

Fourth, set only one goal at a time. If you resolve to quit smoking, lose 30 pounds and exercise six days per week all starting on January first, you are almost assured that you will be only marginally successful.

Lastly, expect success! Use visualization, self-talk, motivational materials, help from friends, or whatever else works for you that keeps you engaged, motivated and active as you seek to achieve your goal for the new year.

I wish you much success as you begin your journey. I would like to thank my readers for their attention in 2018, and I look forward to exploring more Mind Matters in 2019.

Happy New Year!

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