Tis that time of the year again: about 40 percent of adults will make New Year's resolutions, continuing a tradition that began in ancient Roman times.
Resolutions run the gamut of self-improvement, but the majority for January 1 concern health behaviors, such as losing weight, starting exercise, and stopping smoking, and in recent years, financial matters, such as improving finances and getting a new job.
Making a New Year's Resolution is a valuable opportunity to increase the quality of your life. Sure, you can ridicule them, but resolutions are deeply embedded in our culture and psyches as an opportunity to grow and develop, part of the enduring human quest for self-improvement.
Colleagues and I have conducted research on self-change in general and New Year's resolutions in particular for the past 30 years. Those studies can guide your 2013 resolution and form the basis of my recent book on the subject, Changeology. (And our free, interactive website at www.ChangeologyBook.com provides self-assessments and self-change exercises to help you along the way.)
Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolvers do succeed. In one of our studies, we contacted resolvers every two weeks for six months. The success rates were 71 percent for two weeks, 64 percent for one month, and 46 percent for six months. That's impressive for a single episode to modify behavior without professional treatment.
Here are research-based tips for creating and keeping your New Year's Resolution. Use the proven science of change to lead you.
These strategies are based on our research studies tracking successful resolvers. In other words, here's what separates successful from unsuccessful resolvers.
Right now, before January 1
• Make realistic, attainable goals. Vague goals beget vague resolutions.
• Develop a specific action plan. What, specifically, are you going to do differently to counter the problem? What is the healthy alternative you will develop?
• Track your progress by recording or charting your behavior. Research indicates that such "self-monitoring" increases the probability of keeping the resolution.
• Establish genuine confidence that you can keep the resolution despite the occasional slip. Confidence (or self-efficacy, as we psychologists call it) is a potent predictor of who succeeds in the new year.
• Publicly declare your resolution. Public commitments are generally more successful than private decisions.
Tomorrow, in January
• Reward your successes. Reinforce yourself for each step with a (healthy) treat or compliment. Perhaps create a reward contract with a loved one.
♦ Build in a healthy behavior incompatible with your problem. For example, learn assertion if your resolution is to be less passive, or learn to relax if you are resolved to decrease stress.
• Arrange your environment to help, rather than hinder, you. Limit exposure to high-risk situations and create reminders for your resolutions.
• Expect occasional slips in your resolutions. Most successful resolvers slip in January. But a slip need not be a fall; pick yourself up and recommit to your resolution after a slip. One of our studies showed that 71% of successful resolvers said their first slip had actually strengthened their efforts.
• Avoid self-blame after a slip. Frequent self-blame predicts who will give up soon.
Persist, February and beyond
• Cultivate social support. The buddy system works! And buddies can be coworkers, family members, online friends, or fellow resolvers.
• Think of resolutions as marathons, not 100-yard dashes. Prepare for the long haul of a changed lifestyle.
• Prepare for slips associated with negative emotions and social pressures. Create a "slip plan" to deal with those situations. Consider, for example, leaving the pressured situation, distracting yourself, and calling a friend, and reminding yourself that a slip (lapse) need not be a fall (relapse).
• Avoid getting negative about yourself or your slips – be positive about your successes!
• Remember that meaningful change takes time. It takes about 90 days before a change becomes solid and routine.
John C. Norcross, Ph.D, is Professor of Psychology and Distinguished University Fellow at the University of Scranton and author of Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing your Goals and Resolutions (Simon & Schuster; www.ChangeologyBook.com). He is an internationally recognized authority on behavior change and psychotherapy.
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