Like money, snowmen, and secrets, New Year’s resolutions are easier to make than keep. The challenge with keeping resolutions often stems from committing to change without a clear reason why.
Nicole Stelter, Ph.D., LMFT and director of Behavioral Health for Blue Shield of California, offers three tips for crafting thoughtful New Year’s resolutions that won’t melt away before 2024.
- Make it specific and timebound. Instead of vowing to exercise more, set a target such as exercising at least 30 minutes, four times a week for the next six months. Setting a concrete target will help you work it into your calendar and give you a way to measure your progress.
- Make it realistic, given the time and resources you can commit. Running a marathon may not be practical considering your health, medical status, or due to your family and career obligations. Instead, your goal can be focused on making healthy choices or cooking healthy meals three times per week. Making it realistic to you and your life means you’re more likely to succeed.
- Connect it to a purpose. Even when your resolutions are specific and realistic when they’re disconnected from your “why,” you lose sight of the reasons why you’re trying to make a change. Your why might be, for example, “I want to feel better about my health, buy clothes off the rack, and live long enough to see my grandchildren”. Before you can change your behavior, you must change your thinking about why you want to change it.
Once you’ve established a resolution, consider enlisting a friend or family member to keep you on track or work toward the same or similar goal together. “Partnering up offers both a level of support and accountability,” Stelter says. “If you slip up, don’t wallow in the agony of defeat, simply acknowledge the lapse, and continue on.”
“One thing we know is that results vary widely,” says Stelter, noting a large-scale study out of Sweden found that only 55% of responders considered themselves successful at the one-year mark.
“Another important factor to consider is that making and sticking with resolutions can help improve your mental health, which is something more people have struggled with during the pandemic,” says Dr. Stelter. “If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, seek professional help. But if you’re trying to prevent those conditions, breaking a bad habit or creating a good one is empowering and positive reinforcement for well-being. Many employers – including Blue Shield of California - offer Employee Assistance Programs that provide confidential counseling and other services from outside professionals -- including help setting physical, mental, career, and financial goals.”
If you were too busy celebrating or cleaning up after the holidays to make a New Year’s resolution, don’t fret. Although January 1st is the most common time to turn over a new leaf, this Informs study found that people are more likely to engage in dieting, exercising, or personal-goal pursuits at the start of calendar cycles (such as a new week, month, year or school semester), holidays, and birthdays.
“Don’t get stuck on the idea that the New Year is the only time to make changes to improve your health and well-being. Sometimes it is major life events – new job, new home, relationship changes – that give us a chance to pause and reflect on what we want to change. Don’t wait for the New Year to roll around to start,” Dr. Stelter says.