independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Patricia Casey: How to keep your new year's resolutions

Don't let this month end up being another string of failed goals, proper planning will ensure success

As Homer Simpson said "Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try". It's a bit like that with New Year resolutions -- according to Forbes, famous for its lists, only 8pc of people manage to keep their New Year promise. Most of us fall after about one week and don't try again until next New Year's Day.

That's one of the problems with linking self-betterment to a particular date in the year -- renewing the effort is postponed for another 12 months.

A study published in the 'Journal of Clinical Psychology' in December 2013 found that losing weight is the most common New Year resolution, followed by getting organised, spending less, enjoying life to the fullest and so on. Falling in love was 9th in the top 10. Some people make multiple resolutions.

It seems strange that we ritualistically, with annual regularity, set ourselves up for failure in adhering to our resolutions. Even more strange is that we select a single day of the year on which this doomed process begins.

This habit is probably propelled by the strong drive to improve ourselves and how better than starting another year with a clean slate and beginning anew.

The fact that the Baylonians did it this way, when they promised to pay their debts and return borrowed goods on the first day of the new year, or that the tradition was continued by the Romans who made promises to the two-faced god, Janus, doesn't mean we still need to imitate them. Self-betterment can happen at any time of the year.

Setting ourselves a goal that involves change for the better, at very least shows that we have faith in our ability to make this transformation. We also feel virtuous because we are acknowledging our imperfections and the need to improve.

So whenever you decide to make changes to your life, be it on January 1, on your birthday, on the anniversary of a loved one or on some other random day, there are several things you can do to increase the chance of success.

It is simplistic to assume that because we want something to happen it will, just by snapping our fingers. There is nothing magical about promises coming to fruition. Success requires planning, commitment, hardship and perseverance.

It also requires background research -- how often will I have to engage in this behaviour, how much will it cost, can I do it in the time at my disposal? Are the resources available locally?

I may wish to learn the trombone but if there is no trombone teacher where I live or the instrument is prohibitively expensive then my goal will not be achieved. If I live in an apartment block where neighbours might be averse to the noise I make when practising, I'm also unlikely to be successful.

It may seem obvious but the aspiration to change has to crystallise into a definite resolve rather than being a vague wish. So having a desire to lose weight is unlikely to be successful unless it is accompanied by a definite plan on how this can be achieved. Also, just make one resolution. Another approach that harbingers defeat is setting a goal that is unachievable. Failure is almost guaranteed even before you start.

For example, making a resolution to fall in love, while everybody's dream, is outside of the individual's control. A more focussed and potentially achievable resolution would be a definite commitment to join a singles club or some club where unattached people can meet.

Having the support of peers in whatever you do is also advantageous. The plan to lose weight or to get fit would be reinforced by committing oneself to going for a walk during lunchtime with workmates three times per week, for example, or going to the gym with a friend on agreed days. This is the carrot and stick approach -- the praise of friends when the desired outcome is achieved and the embarrassment when the agreement is broken will help to maintain the behaviour.

A weekly review of progress is also in order and a regular reward when success is achieved also maintains the behaviour. So when you've lost three kilos this could be rewarded, not with an ice cream, but with say, a nice bar of soap or a book.

Our resolutions seldom succeed because we are human with all the weaknesses that accompany our nature. We can reduce the chances of this happening by confining our resolution to a single, achievable, explicit, goal.

They should be researched and planned and the support of others should be drawn upon where possible. If we fail, we should not beat ourselves up but start again. In the words of Samuel Beckett "Try again. Fail again. Fail better".

Irish Independent

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