In the next week or so, about 100 million Americans will come out with bold and sometimes hastily conceived New Year's resolutions. One wonders why some of the most popular New Year's resolutions end in failure.
It is hard not to get the urge to make resolutions on New Year's Eve. There is that sense of renewal, rebirth, the guilty awareness of self-shortcomings and sometimes the burning need to get rid of undesired habits. But is behavioral change really something we can achieve?
"Change is possible, but it requires a certain amount of personal commitment on the part of the person," says Dr. Amani Aridi, vice president of the Washington D.C. Mental Health Counseling Association. "We have to be willing to put forth energy, effort and often make sacrifices that may be required."
Dr. Aridi believes that change is attainable when we are motivated and when we develop the habit of thinking through the consequences of our behavior. Why is it so tempting to make a new resolution for the New Year?
"The New Year is often viewed as an opportunity to make a fresh start," Dr. Aridi says. "That is one thing, people say, this is an opportunity for me to start a whole new chapter and start fresh. The second thing is that most of us do have natural desire and want to grow and improve or change, but we often need some kind of stimulus to motivate us to change. And the idea of the New Year's resolution is that it sometimes brings to our awareness or consciousness the idea of change, and it inspires us or sometimes make us compelled to take some kind of action."
Every 12 months, many of us make resolutions, such as, to lose weight, to quit smoking, to exercise more or to make new friends. Now, let us look at last year's resolutions. Were they kept, and for how long?
If we are aware of what must be done to improve our behavior and life, why can't we keep New Year's resolutions? Dr. Aridi says maybe it's because the resolutions are not made for the right reasons.
"The problem is that most of the New Year's resolutions come from social expectations," she says. "As a result, these are often externally motivated. And from what we have seen, change needs to come from within. It needs to be internally motivated. So, if it is coming from societal pressure or someone else kind of telling you, you should do this, usually people do not tend to follow through."
To succeed, your desire for change must be internal and so strong that you will be committed and willing to make sacrifices. You have to get yourself a plan with some goals. And as Dr. Aridi tells us, goals must be worded carefully. And there are four important rules.
"First thing is that it should be clear and specific," she says. "For example, rather than just say, I want to get into shape, it is much better to say, 'OK, I am going to try to loose 10 pounds by the end of March. And I am going to do this by having this kind of diet and maybe exercising three times a week.' So the goal must be very clear and you should have a plan to achieve this goal."
If you are able to keep this resolve for three months, it will probably become a habit. The second rule is that the goal must be realistic and achievable. Whenever we set very high standards and very unrealistic goals, we feel overwhelmed, so we totally give up and abandon them. So rather than saying I want to loose 10 kilos, let's say 5 kilos. Make sure it is something you can actually do.
Third, the goal should be consistent with your values and who you are.
The fourth rule, for successfully carrying out your New Year's resolutions, is rewarding yourself whenever you achieve what brings you closer to your goal. Even when people achieve the goal they set, they need to follow up on their behavior over the years.
As for Dr. Aridi herself, is she ready for the New Year? Does she have a new resolution?
"Well, it is funny. I was thinking about that. I guess maybe because I am in the field, I feel like I am in a constant journey of trying to improve and grow," she says. "I do not usually think about it as a New Year's [ritual], but I think about it more as a continual kind of life long journey. Recently, actually, I am trying to become more organized in my life and in my house. So, I have been making steps towards that."
As final words of encouragement to resolution takers, Dr. Aridi has these suggestions.
Give yourself credit when you achieve a resolution, but if you fail, look at the barriers and try to do better next time. Resolutions that make you feel good about yourself might include thinking of others as well. Dr. Aridi also suggests that random acts of kindness towards others help people feel good about themselves and grow from inside out.