New Year, new you? People have been making – and breaking – New Year’s resolutions since the birth of Father Time. So what does it take to make goals you can actually accomplish?
Strategies to choosing the resolutions you can conquer
Over half of people’s New Year’s targets involve finances, weight loss, or fitness, according to a 2021 survey by Statista. Planning what you hope to change thoughtfully, however, may increase your chances for success.
- Choose smaller goals: “If you set a lofty goal that is very different than what you are currently doing, it is harder to achieve,” says Niloo Dardashti, PsyD., Vice President and Director of Adult and Couples Services at Manhattan Psychology Group, PC. “The brain is wired to be reinforced or not reinforced. Your brain will interpret small goals as ‘I can continue to do this,’ but if you set expectations too high, then your brain sends the message ‘I cannot follow through on this’ and it will affect your results.” Instead of resolving to lose 50 pounds, for example, try to limit desserts to 2 times per week, or walk an additional 4,000 steps per day.
- Opt for intangible goals with broader impact: “Identify a goal that you can apply to multiple areas of your life instead of pigeon-holing yourself into one specific action,” says Karen Surowiec, PsyD., Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychologist at Manhattan Psychology Group, PC. “A concept or an outlook that extends throughout your lifestyle can feel easier to latch onto and make a large impact.” Consider less concrete goals when you identify beneficial personal changes, such as listening to your intuition more consistently, or turning off self-doubting thoughts.
- Rethink your resolutions mindset: “You don’t have to call them resolutions, or even goals,” says Dr. Surowiec. “Rewording them as ‘new behaviors’ or ‘changes’ can help you achieve success.” Converting your resolutions into changes provides similar intentions, but takes away the traditional pressures associated with New Year’s resolutions.
Tactics to prevent resolutions failure
Falling off the horse, slipping up, or just plain giving up… no matter what you call it, the dreaded disappointment of failure when you break your resolution is hard. An estimated 68% of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions within 2 months, and the majority blame lack of willpower as their primary reason for failure, according to a 2020 study by OnePoll. With the right outlook and support, however, you increase your chances of sticking with your plans.
- Celebrate small milestones, not just a big achievement: “It is OK to start with a big goal – for example, to get fit,” says Dr. Surowiec, “but drill down into that: ‘What is it about this goal that is going to help me or make my life better?’ Once you identify what you hope to achieve, say feeling healthier, you can determine smaller, more attainable resolutions under that larger goal.” Rejoicing in one or more stepping stones towards a broader resolution will feel easier to accomplish and keep you motivated.
- Identify your support system: “As you work towards a goal, it can also provide an opportunity to consider who can help you with your plan,” says Dr. Dardashti. “Relatedly, reflections upon what you hope to change in a New Year can help you consider adapting damaging relationships with certain friends or family members.” Negative peer pressure can sideline goals to quit or reduce drinking, for example.
- Seek therapy to help accomplish your goals: ”When it comes to past failures, your therapist is not there to scold you, but to give you compassionate support, understanding, and tools that can fit into your lifestyle to help you reach your goals,” says Dr. Surowiec. “Therapy can give you specific and customized strategies to find what works for you because it’s not one size fits all. It is finding out what your risk and comfort tolerances are and developing skills that are best for you.”
- Seek therapy to improve your relationships and mental health: “Internal conflicts have arisen due to Covid, especially regarding anxiety and isolation,” says Dr. Dardashti. “Our relationships have evolved by virtue of spending more or less time with our loved ones or due to life impacts like job changes. Therapy can help you work through internal conflicts resulting from these changes, as well as struggles due to various losses as a result of Covid restrictions and confinements.”
Example Resolution, from Start to Finish:
- Identify your goal: To lose 50 pounds.
- Break down your goal into smaller goals: Instead of just planning to lose 50 pounds, identify small actions that progress towards that larger goal. For example, create a grocery list in advance to plan healthier meals more easily, or up your water intake to at least 2 liters per day.
- Consider why you want to lose weight: To get healthier? To feel more confident? Discuss your intentions with your therapist and come up with smaller lifestyle changes associated with this.
- Break destructive habits hindering progress: Changing behaviors that have sidelined your weight loss in the past will be challenging to stop. But there are strategies to cease late-night snacking, for example. Stock your fridge with healthier foods and replace the time you would have spent snacking with new habits, such as reading, learning a new skill, or doing a yoga video.
- Stop negative thoughts: You can acknowledge your negative thoughts, but you can find ways to turn them into positive thoughts instead of allowing them to disrupt your work towards your goal. Take deep breaths and chant or journal self-loving thoughts as you would tell someone you care about. For example, ‘I am valuable, I am worthy of a healthy mind and body, and I am loved regardless of my size.”
- Create a team to help you: A support system can keep you accountable and offer you respect and care. Identify some trusted friends and family members, and share your weight loss goal with them. They can cheer you on and back your goal planning; for example, they may suggest healthier restaurant options or light physical activity during your time together.
- Stick with it: Changing your behaviors can feel difficult, but your therapist can provide a trusted space to talk about your goals. You can talk to your therapist about why you turn to food for comfort, or why you feel shame towards your body, for example. Therapy can help you transform these actions and feelings into healthier, positive patterns with long-term impacts.
Manhattan Psychology Group can offer immediate and ongoing support to help you, your spouse or your children set new goals, break destructive habits, and improve mental health and relationships with others. From individual therapy sessions to virtual parent training groups and webinars, we provide tools and strategies to help you feel happier, healthier, and more confident. New year, new better you.
For more information or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!
By Beth Finch