Smart New Year Resolutions

Frank smiled complacently in the office of psychologist Dr. Peter Wish. Frank said he had created a New Year's resolution. “This year I am going to generate 1 million dollars.” When Dr. Wish, questioned him what he will do to fulfill it, Frank dismissed it and said, “I just will.”

Sarah, on the other hand, said her resolution for the new year was similar as that of last year, the other year, and the year before that: to lose weight and remove 30 pounds by January 31.

And Matthew, with tears rolling down his face, in the office of psychologist Dr. John C. Norcross and whispered roughly, “My New Year's resolution will be to speak to my younger brother. Thirty years ago when my mother passed away, we had squabble. A falling-out. We haven't talked since. On January 1 I'm going to pick up that telephone and call him.”

Which of these real resolutions is likely to happen? Which are doomed to failure before they're started? And how can we make smart New Year's resolutions?

“Smart resolutions,” says Dr. Norcross, long-time researcher on New Year's resolutions and self-change, and coauthor of Changing for Good, “are realistic resolutions.”

New Year's resolutions began with the ancient Romans, and most cultures have New Year's traditions. Whether it's January 1, the first day of spring, or religious dates, “resolutions are made,” Dr. Norcross says, “because it's a new beginning, a time to wipe the slate clean. Humans also innately want to change things and make things better.” Dr. Wish adds that people make resolutions for the opportunity to do something good for themselves to change things and make things better.“ Dr. Wish adds that people make resolutions for the opportunity to do something good for themselves.

The most popular resolutions, says Dr. Norcross, are to lose weight (women more than men) and to stop smoking. In recent years managing money better has been a third topic.

More than half of us make New Year's resolutions each year; one week later four out of five are on track, three weeks later three of five, six months later two of five, and two years later only one of five is still sticking with the resolution.

“Resolutions focus on bad habits, traits that people have been inconsistent with and have had difficulty changing,” Dr. Wish says. That makes resolutions come with built-in problems, making them hard to stick to.

Making Them Stick

Make sure you want to make a resolution. “People feel pressured to change on New Year's Day,” Dr. Norcross says. “It's a hopeful time, a time of change, a time to start over. But if people really aren't ready to make a change - if they're doing it because they're supposed to, or for someone else – the resolution is doomed to failure.”

Choose only one or two resolutions. Jot down a list of 10 things you want to change and choose the easiest. “That gives you a higher chance for success, you'll then have more confidence attacking the next problem,” Dr. Wish suggests.

Be reasonable. Create less than three resolutions at a time and do not make them enormous. New year’s resolutions must be attainable and reasonable; giving five percent more to the church, learning to bike, and treating your friends better are reasonable.

Resolutions like publishing a book in six months, finding sunken treasure, and creating world peace are not. Each of these may have a worthy resolution component - writing five novel pages daily, for instance - but the overall concept is simply too huge and unreasonable.

Even with reasonable resolutions people tend to sabotage themselves, Dr. Wish says, by being unreasonable about how long their resolutions will take.

“They get on the scale after five days and are disappointed that they didn't lose eight or 10 pounds, and give up. It's important to be reasonable about what you expect, and when, so that you can have a fairly good chance of succeeding; otherwise you're really being unkind to yourself.

Be exact. “Instead of making a generic resolution,” Dr. Wish says, “like 'I'm going to lose weight,' be specific. Define what that means - more like 'I'm going to lose 25 pounds,' or 'I'm going to walk for 20 minutes four times a week until I've lost 25 pounds.”' Break the resolution down. Break it into bite-sized chunks, small steps that are accomplishable.

If your resolution, for instance, is to get your cardiovascular system into shape so you don't puff after climbing a set of stairs, break that goal into smaller goals: walk slowly up three flights of stairs twice a week, swim 20 laps twice a week, or run at half speed for five minutes every day.

Prepare for changes. Do not set fire to your house and then ponder where you are going to live. If you are going to lessen the cigarettes you smoke per day, you have to comprehend that your requirements for oral gratification has to be fulfilled. Plan ahead. Have substitutes such as hard candy on hand.

Prepare your environment. If you want to eat less fat, remove high-fat foods from your refrigerator. If you want to spend less on frivolities, avoid stores where you'll be tempted. If you want to read more, avoid rooms where the TV is on.

Go public. Enlist the aid of other people. Announce what you're going to do. Tell your family and/or friends that you'll need their help in giving “gentle” reminders.

Reward yourself. If you eat less than 20 percent fat all day, for instance, allow yourself to do something you've been wanting to do, such as watch a particular TV show or read a book. Make sure you apply the reward each time you accomplish one of the steps in your resolution.

Be prepared for a long haul. For a resolution to work, you must be prepared to do whatever it takes for a very long time, perhaps the rest of your life.


Proper preparation, common sense, and a strong dose of determination can make all the difference in the success of your resolutions. Take Mabel, for example, an 80-year-old who made a resolution to play the piano, which she had given up 63 years earlier.

She made a plan and followed through, step by step. “Every time our researchers called Mabel, she set the phone down, went to the piano, and played a piece. The same one every time. Back at the phone she'd say, 'Now, wasn't that better than the last time you heard it?”' Dr. Norcross says. Or Matthew, who called his brother and was reunited with him.

On the other hand, as expected, Frank didn't make a million bucks, and Sarah didn't lose 40 pounds.

Be smart in making resolutions by following these steps and imagine what a happy new year your success will make for you.

Society | Self-Help

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