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Keep your resolve

By Kim O’Hare

Making New Year’s resolutions is as predictable as the arrival of the new year itself. It’s the time when many of us vow to turn our lives around.

We take oaths to quit smoking, lose weight, eat less, drink less, work harder, work less, spend more time with family, be a better person - the list of resolutions is endless but the reality is that by the time the first credit card bills begin arriving in the new year, many of us have lost our resolve. pictureActually, the outlook is not that bleak. A recent study by the University of Washington shows 63 percent of people were still keeping their number one New Year’s resolution after two months.

Researchers Alan Marlatt and Elizabeth Miller wanted to understand why some people manage to stick to their resolutions, while others give up in despair. They decided to focus on health-related resolutions, because these are the most common.

“The keys to making a successful resolution are a person’s confidence that he or she can make the behaviour change and the commitment to making that change,” says Miller.

In addition, the study indicates that “resolutions are a process, not a one-time effort that offer people a chance to create new habits.” Even if people are successful, they need to follow-up on their behaviour over the years, she adds.

To be successful with your own resolutions, Marlatt, who has studied the subject for more than 20 years, suggests:

* Have a strong initial commitment to make a change.
* Have coping strategies to deal with problems that will come up.
* Keep track of your progress. The more monitoring you do and feedback you get, the better you will do.

Sure-fire ingredients for setting yourself up for resolution failure, he adds, include:

* Not thinking about making resolutions until the last minute.
* Reacting on New Year’s Eve and making your resolutions based on what’s bothering you or is on your mind at that time.
* Framing your resolutions as absolutes, by saying: “I will never do X again.”

While the study by Miller and Marlatt focused on primary resolutions, most people made several resolutions, with 67 percent making three or more. Increasing the amount of exercise was the most common primary resolution, being made by 37 percent of subjects.

It was followed by: increasing the time devoted to study or work, 23 percent; increasing the consumption of healthy food or decreasing the amount of unhealthy food, 13 percent; reducing the use of tobacco, alcohol, caffeine or other drugs used, 7 percent.

People made significantly more resolutions to start or increase a behaviour - 222 - than to stop or decrease something - 42. Only 65 percent of subjects made their resolutions between December 28th and New Year’s Day. The rest made pledges they considered to be New Year’s resolutions as early as May and as late as the end of January.

Persistence can pay off. Of the people who successfully achieved their top resolution, only 40 percent of them did so on the first attempt. The rest made multiple tries, with 17 percent finally succeeding after more than six attempts.

As final words of encouragement to resolution makers, Marlatt has these suggestions:
“Take credit for success when you achieve a resolution, but it is a mistake to blame yourself if you fail.

“Instead, look at the barriers that were in your way. See how you can do better the next time and figure out a better plan to succeed. You do get to try again and can make behaviour changes throughout the year, not only at New Year.”

Here are a few other strategies to keep you on track:

“Focus on realistic goals with measurable results,” says Jill RachBeisel, M.D., director of community psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical Center.  “You need to break things down into small steps that you can manage.”

Instead of trying to lose 50 pounds, focus on losing five pounds at a time. And instead of trying to lose five pounds a week, focus on losing a pound a week.

Don’t shoot for perfection. While we certainly always want to better ourselves, it is healthier to think in positive terms than it is to focus on how much we fall short of our aspirations.

Keep resolutions realistic. For example, instead of saying you won’t yell at your kids anymore, resolve to yell at them less often.

Go public; don’t keep your resolutions to yourself. Tell someone you trust about your resolutions. It helps to share your goals with friends, who can gently nudge you in the right direction when you veer off course.

The strength lies within. People sometimes make goals that aren’t necessarily meaningful to them. Your goal should be something you really desire to change or achieve, not something that a spouse or family members say is good for you.  If you don’t have strong, internal motivation within yourself, you won’t be successful.

If at first you don’t succeed, learn from your setbacks. Mistakes can be opportunities for learning. If you fall short of your goals, ask yourself what kept you from achieving them and then try to make corrections. You almost never go directly from point A to point B. So stay positive and focussed and you’ll be on the right track to keep those resolutions this year.

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