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I am a psychologist who has been in private practice for over 15 years in Bryn Mawr, PA-Western Suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. I have a special interest in issues affecting women.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why New Years Resolutions Are Hard to Keep & How Self-Examination Can Help You Be More Successful

     It's that time of year again when people are either struggling to stay committed to their New Year's resolutions or have completely given up on the goals they had set for themselves about what they want to change or accomplish in the New Year. This tradition dates back to the early Babylonians, who believed that what people did on the first day of the year affected what they did for the rest of that year. People now see the New Year as a perfect opportunity to start over or to change bad habits. According to several surveys, the most popular resolutions people make are related to health and fitness (eating better, losing weight, and exercising), reducing consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs, quitting smoking, and achieving financial stability by spending less and saving more. Unfortunately, over 70% of resolutions are broken by the end of January, and broken resolutions can leave a person feeling discouraged and even more despondent than before.
     So, the question is, "What can one do about this discouraging statistic?". For starters, most psychologists agree you have a better chance of sticking to your resolution if:

1. Your goal is specific; make sure your resolution is not vague. Make your goal concrete, and if necessary, break it down into smaller steps. For example, if your resolution is to consume fewer carbohydrates, resolve to eat carbohydrates only at one meal per day rather than resolving to eliminate carbohydrates completely and all at once. Once you are successful you can then begin to decrease your consumption even further.

2. Write your resolution down; put it somewhere where you can see it on a daily basis. This will help you to stay focused.

3. Hold yourself accountable; let others know about your resolution.

4. Have coping strategies to deal with obstacles that may arise along the way. 

5. Reward yourself at each milestone; if you resolve to spend less money; reward yourself by getting a massage instead of going shopping. It is important to be conscious of the rewards you chose.

6. Don't do it alone! Get professional assistance when needed.

     Resolutions are complicated, and being able to achieve them usually requires us to take a good hard look at our own thoughts and behaviors. Setting goals in life is important and keeps us motivated and on track, but stamping out old habits is difficult and may even require the help of a professional.
     Compulsive and repeated behaviors such as overeating, overspending, and drinking more than intended may be due to an underlying anxiety and/or mood disorder. For example, some may frequently overeat to cope with a troubled marriage. Others may overspend because they are depressed and feel happier, at that moment, when shopping. Examining and treating these underlying psychological issues will help with understanding the "why" we continue to engage in these negatives behaviors and the "how" to develop a solid plan of action for achieving long-term change.
     Making New Years resolutions is a good thing. Resolutions are the start to making changes by identifying the behaviors we want to change. Striving for self-improvement and setting goals for ourselves is inspirational and gives us a sense of hope for the future. One way to succeed in our resolutions is to change the way we address them. Be sure to make them a priority, be specific, and work at them daily. Good luck with your own New Year Resolutions and Happy New Year!

I would like to hear from you. What resolutions are you making for the New Year? Can You suggest other strategies for keeping New Year resolutions? How successful have you been in the past?

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