New Year’s resolutions are notoriously easy to make and break.
“For most people, two weeks into the New Year, the resolutions are gone,” said Dr. Bryan Gros, psychologist and president of the Louisiana Psychological Association.
“Habits are hard to break. We are creatures of habit ... resolutions are not going to happen on their own,” he said.
For anyone who’s up for the challenge, though, it might help in advance to know that willpower may not be what it takes.
But motivation? That’s another story.
In fact, if motivation isn’t high enough to power resolutions at the launch of 2013, it might be better to wait until another time, when the motivation is there.
Losing weight and stopping smoking, for example, are two of the top New Year’s resolutions — or challenges, perhaps.
In addition to gauging their level of motivation, people might want to also consider how much stress they’re presently experiencing in their lives.
When circumstances are different and calmer might be a better time for carrying out resolutions.
Phillip Brantley, a John S. McAllhenny professor at Pennington, with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, said that he and other researchers keep both aspects — motivation and life circumstances — in mind, when screening people for participation in research trials.
“For trials, we’re looking for people who have a high level of motivation, and their current life situation” lends itself to making big life changes, said Brantley, who’s been involved for 30 years in behavioral medicine research funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“One of the big obstacles to changing behavior, is that it has to be done in context with all the other things going on your life,” Brantley said.
He recommended that someone considering making a change in their life first study what would be involved and what the benefits would be.
“‘Maybe my resolution ought to be to increase my motivation,’” is one helpful step toward keeping one’s resolutions, he said.
But there’s a right way and wrong way to become motivated.
A good way is to remember successes of the past in reaching desired goals, Brantley said.
A not-so-good way is to pile on guilt.
“People try to motivate themselves by guilt trips or making themselves feel bad. They focus on the negative,” Brantley said.
“Those are not things that are helpful in making yourself move closer to taking action,” he said.
And another thing, it’s hard to make these changes on one’s own.
“If you feel motivated enough (to make changes), you should probably seek support” from others on the same path, Brantley said.
Using weight loss as one common resolution, Brantley suggested taking part in one of the free trials at Pennington, joining a weight-loss group or finding support from others through related online websites.
“Team up with someone, where you can hold each other accountable,” Gros said.
Gros has other suggestions for success, as well:
- Set specific and measurable goals. “‘I want to eat healthy,’” is a good start, but needs some details to be effective.
- Break goals down into a doable timeline, instead of making one big, over-arching goal.
- Plan how to work new lifestyle changes into an everyday schedule. Ample time has to be set aside, for a new exercise program, for instance.
- Set up some kind of reward system for meeting goals — and a gentle program of consequences, “some kind of cost to not doing what you were supposed to do that day, while at the same time rewarding yourself when you do,” Gros said.
“I think New Year’s resolutions are a good thing, because they focus attention on areas that we know we could improve. That in itself is good,” Brantley said.
It has the “potential of moving things along,” he said.
Gros agrees that setting personal goals is a positive thing.
His last word of advice?
“Make them attainable and measurable.”