Resolution Solutions for the New Year

“My New Year’s resolution is to quit procrastinating . . . I’ll start tomorrow.” Unfortunately, that’s the dead-end road that a majority of our resolutions take. Most of us are familiar with Albert Einstein’s quote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” but when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, why is it that we do the same thing over and over (make resolutions) hoping that things will be different, yet they never are? The solution to accomplishing New Year’s resolutions can usually be found in these four things:

  1. Clearly identify the critical behaviors: Most resolutions require changes in more than one behavior. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, increasing exercise will probably be a part of your plan. However, if you increase food intake as a result, you will not be successful. Therefore, you must plan to increase exercise while eating the same, or less, calories per day.
  2. Start slower: Always start with goals that are smaller than you think they should be. If you plan to lose 50 pounds next year, people usually plan to lose a pound a week. While this sounds reasonable, and it may be easy to do the first few weeks, after a month or so it becomes harder and harder to do. It is very important that you set yourself up for early success (Day 1). It is much better to lose more than a pound a week than to fail to meet the initial week’s target.
  3. Track behavior AND results: If you can’t count it, you can’t know on a regular basis if you are making progress and/or how much progress you’ve made. Keeping a chart or a fun graph, self-tracking on a phone app, weighing yourself —all of these are ways to keep yourself engaged. The ability to see improvement on a graph adds considerable positive reinforcement for the targeted behavior. While my personal weight on my scale is a reinforcing activity for me, it is also important in the early stages to track calories. This allows me to get positive reinforcement for meeting my calorie and/or exercise goals when it might not show up on the scale. I know that continuing to meet the behavioral goals will ultimately show up on the scale.
  4. Choose positive consequences that you are likely to consistently carry out: Too many resolutionists will plan consequences for achievement but fall into the “Have your cake and eat it too” syndrome. If you plan to go to a movie if you meet your weekly goal and fail to meet the goal but go to the movie anyway, you will certainly fail at meeting your resolution.

You may also find the following suggestions helpful as well, in arriving at solutions to your resolutions.

  • State your goal and make a behavioral plan. For example, if your goal is to lose weight (probably the most popular, repeat-offender New Year’s resolution) decide how many times a week you will exercise, what type of exercise you will do, how long each exercise session will be, how you will change your diet, and so on. Put it in writing.
  • Tell somebody about your resolution(s). This is a tough one because not only do we not want people looking at us askew when they see us veering off the straight and narrow, we also don’t enjoy the prospect of public failure. So tell a good friend or relative that won’t be a nag, but will be there to encourage and congratulate.
  • Keep it simple and only make one to two resolutions. Unless you’re the type of person who enjoys excruciatingly detailed mandates, you should make a plan that’s relatively easy to follow. As a first step on your weight loss plan, for example, you might decide to replace sodas with water at meals or to cut back on carbs. Keep a record.
  • Reward yourself for every positive step. Buy a book you really want to read and only let yourself read a chapter after you’ve finished your workout. Record a television program that you can watch after you clean out the garage (or at least part of the garage!)
  • Stop all the self-punishment. Nobody’s perfect. If they were, why would New Year’s resolutions exist? If we punish ourselves too much for going off our plan, then we may just decide to quit or even dive further into our bad habit(s).
  • Celebrate in a way that doesn’t throw you completely off track. When you reach a milestone, such as losing a pound or making good headway on a project, step back and tell yourself what a good job you’re doing. Tell your “resolutions” friend what you’ve done so far. Treat yourself to a once-a-week dessert or go to a movie.

Incorporating these suggestions into your plan will help achieve success with your resolutions. Don’t get discouraged. As Oprah Winfrey once said, “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

And one last bit of advice; If you find yourself stuck and unable to complete difficult or undesirable tasks, give the Premack Principle a try.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.