By Paula Damon
“The new year begins in a snow-storm of white vows.” George William Curtis, writer
Ask any number of behavioral experts why so many of us fail to keep our New Year’s resolutions and they’ll tell you we do it to ourselves. We set unrealistic goals in too short of time frames. We don’t realize that keeping resolutions requires significant change. And, if we slip or don’t achieve our goals soon enough, we easily get discouraged.
Oh, sure, the first few days, maybe even weeks, we manage to be good – bearing white knuckles, sweaty brows and all. But we quickly lose faith, when our weakening willpower takes a hike to some nether land of broken promises and we find ourselves back at square one.
It’s not about being lazy or unaccomplished. Not in the least. Truth be told, sometimes we’re just not ready to lose weight, quit smoking, save money or do whatever. Although, if we want something different, as Dr. Phil says, we need to do something different.
Scientific research shows that our good and bad habits are formed by thinking patterns that produce neural pathways and memories. These behavior patterns come into play when deciding, for example, between having a donut that is sweetly calling our name, or that boring old bowl of oatmeal, staring us down.
By choosing the oatmeal over the donut, we create new neural pathways from new thinking, replacing old pathways from our previous stinkin’ thinkin’.
So, for any of you making New Year’s resolutions, here are some pointers for stick-to-itiveness to help you along the way:
1. Make only one resolution and focus solely on it. Don’t boil the ocean by saying you’re going to become the next Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.
2. Set realistic goals that are specific by narrowing down the pounds you want to shed and time frame in which you want to lose it. Instead of trying to lose 100 pounds in a month, 12 to 18 months would be more like it.
3. Make your resolution a year-long process that you recommit to every day. Promising yourself at 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day that you’re never going to do “that” again and immediately forgetting about it is a recipe for failure.
4. Take small steps toward your goal. Many people quit because what they’ve set out to do is overwhelming, like saying you’ll quit criticizing your husband. Start with baby steps by only doing it behind his back.
5. Assign a friend to help keep you honest and accountable. Hannibal Lecter would not be a good choice.
6. Celebrate your mini successes along the way by treating yourself. No, not with a two-pound bag of Cheetos. Plan a bigger incentive for reaching your final goal, not including the all-you-can buffet at Golden Coral.
7. Stay focused on your new thinking and new behaviors, not on your old way of doing things. Repetitive self-talk really does help. “I will not chew my toenails in public. I will not chew my toenails in public.”
8. Avoid worrying about tomorrow. Stay in the moment and consider one small step you can take each day. Focus on what you can control rather than on what’s uncontrollable, like your boss’s bad comb-over or a wind chill of minus 70 below zero.
9. Identify how you are feeling emotionally, mentally and physically. Keep a journal and be honest. If you feel like crap, say so.
10. Lighten up. Don’t let any backsliding slow you down. Remember, you’re only human. Have some fun along the way. Tell a nice clean joke. (What is the best way to carve wood? Answer: Whittle by whittle.)
The best to you in the New Year. May you reach your goals whittle by whittle.