Making New Year's resolution stick

  • Published
  • By Stuart Bapties
  • Robins Health and Wellness Center director
One of my favorite songs this time of year is John Lennon's "So this is Christmas" with the apropos words of "Another year over, and a new one just begun." 

It reminds me that it's the time of year that many of us in Health Promotions get excited about, the time of year that many will make resolutions and goals for the New Year and a time when I start the year off helping others achieve their goals. 

We often start the New Year with resolutions to achieve a balance in our lives by paying attention to areas we may have neglected in the last few busy months or years. 

Some will want to get healthier by wanting to lose weight or stop smoking, while others want to learn a new skill or change a life circumstance to make more money or get a new job. Some may actually want to try to slow down a little bit from our busy lives and spend more time with family or do the things they loved in years past. 

Whatever the resolution, we start the year with the best of intentions but pretty soon reach that critical point where circumstances may conspire to make us feel like giving up on those resolutions.

In the HAWC, we feel the advent of the holidays when our classes drop to low numbers due to parties and traveling, but at the beginning of the year we're flooded with packed classes and bombarded with the question, "How can you help me keep my New Year's Resolutions?"

When I am asked this question, whether it's for being more active, losing weight, or stopping smoking I always answer the same way.  "Nike is wrong.  It's not enough to simply 'Just Do It' you have to develop a plan for making yourself successful and you have to work your plan." 

Clients in my Tobacco Cessation classes will tell you that I say that in every session, "Those who formulate a plan are usually successful long term, and those who don't will be making the same resolution year after year until they do." 

So how do you make this year different when making resolutions to make sure you set yourself up for success? 

Change your perspective when approaching New Year's resolutions. Instead of making a vague list of what you want to change, ask yourself these simple questions:

Start by specifically defining what it is you plan to accomplish this year. Be concise, keep it simple. For example, if you start with a goal like, "I plan to be healthier this year," you may want to redefine that as, "I plan to eat more fruits and vegetables, as well as cut out sodas and other added sugars." If your resolution is to, lose weight this year, you might guide yourself toward saying, "I plan on losing 15 pounds this year."

Ask yourself, "Why would I like to accomplish this goal?" Often, physical changes to our lives have an internal representation that we aren't even aware we're striving for. That's why some people vow to lose 15 pounds but once they do, they still feel defeated and depressed. If you really investigate why you want to accomplish your goal, you will find a bit more about what you really wish to accomplish. I always tell my clients that this is one of the most important things to identify.  It helps keep you going when times get hard, and you want to quit before reaching your goal.

Have a well-thought-out plan before you embark on your adventure this year. It's important to realize that if you knew all there was to know about this particular life change, you'd have already accomplished it. Come to this resolution like a student who needs to learn by:

1. Doing your Research: Make sure you find out the info about what you're taking on. If the resolution is to eat healthier, what is it you plan to eat? If you're educated about the foods you should and shouldn't be eating, you'll be empowered even further.  If your resolution is to lose weight, then your job is to learn actual ways to go about it.  What type of exercise works best for you?  What do you plan on cutting out and adding to your life in order to accomplish the goal?

2. Tell everyone you know: People who are accountable are more likely to succeed in achieving resolution goals. Accountability is exactly why groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers are credible and effective. When you know that you're going to hear it from people when you continue to engage in the old behaviors or if you fail to run the 15 miles a week you promised, you're less likely to bail out on your resolutions.  Also, letting people know about your goals is a great way to have friends and family encourage you along the way.

3. Set up a reward system: Periodically use rewards for reaching small goals. Were you successful shedding a couple of pounds this week? Treat yourself to a movie or buy a new pair of pants that fit your ever shrinking body.
Accomplishing the goals you set produces dopamine, the pleasure chemical in our brain, those who have taken classes at the HAWC have heard all about dopamine and how it encourages behavior. 

Dopamine activates the parts of the brain which make you eager to pursue new challenges. By setting and achieving goals today, you're heightening your ability to be the person you want to be.