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Ask Dr. Mike: About Those New Year’s Resolutions

Some sage advice about promises we make to ourselves and to each other each every year.

Dr. Mike focuses on New Year's resolutions.
Dr. Mike focuses on New Year's resolutions.

A New Year, A New You! But first a few facts worth considering.

According to a study on New Year’s Resolutions published in the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology, nearly 50 percent of us make New Year’s Resolutions but only about 8 percent of us succeed.  Losing weight (#1), getting organized (#2), spending less and saving more (3#), enjoying life to the fullest (#4), and staying fit and healthy (#5) were the top resolutions for 2014.  Findings from the study also support the old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” with younger people in their 20s fairing much better than those 50 and older in sticking to resolutions.

This year, I offer the following suggestions in helping you to discover the new you:

First, be mindful of what matters most to you and your loved ones in creating change. Sometimes the most important changes worth making in life are not the first ones that come to mind. Sitting down for dinner more frequently as a family, for example, may not rank as high as spending less or getting organized, but the impact may be more meaningful to your children and spouse. Thus, spend some time to reflect on what matters most to you. Only you know what is missing from your life and/or what part of you is most in need of repair or attention.    

Second, do not be overly ambitious. It is hard enough to focus on making one positive change at a time, yet many people overload themselves with several resolutions. I suggest committing to improving one important area in your life only. You can always work on other aspects of yourself later.     

Third, think of the change you wish to make for yourself as a process and not a goal in and of itself. So rather than focusing on losing 20 pounds, instead work to create the mindset of having a healthier relationship with food and then set some reasonable expectations for yourself (e.g., drinking more water, snacking less or differently, eating smaller portions, etc.).

Fourth, make your resolutions known to others. Having the support of family and friends will help to keep you on track and accountable for the change you desire. You may also wish to embark on a shared resolution with a loved one or friend. For example, you and your spouse could sign up together for a one-month dietary cleanse or sign up and train together for a 5K.

Fifth, set aside some quiet time each day to assess your progress and make mental adjustments as needed. This time does not need to be overly formal or time consuming. A few minutes in the shower or while driving in the car can help to refocus you at the start of each day. 

Sixth, visualizing your success can also be helpful in your thought process toward change, and many people benefit from visual aids. Perhaps creating a vision board with resolution focused pictures or ideas posted in your personal space at home or work could serve as a healthy reminder.    

Research studies on change have shown that learning new habits can take three weeks or more before those habits become a part of you and your behavioral repertoire. So keep in mind that you will have ups and you will have downs in any worthwhile effort you put toward personal change and self-improvement. The important thing to remember is that your efforts do make a difference even if the change you are striving for seems slow in the making. As the statistics from the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology show, "people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't explicitly make resolutions.” All the best to you in 2014!

Dr. Oberschneider is with Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services. Send questions to moberschneider@hotmail.com.

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