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Editorial: How to succeed at resolutions

We’re one week into 2018 and chances are good that many of you have already fudged on your New Year’s resolution.

Affording to a Huffington Post report last week, the top six resolutions each year are to lose weight, get organized, learn to say “no,” travel more, spend more time with family and learn a new skill or hobby.

According to researcher John Norcross, who published his findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, about 50 percent of the population makes annual resolutions. Yet by February the majority are backsliding and, by the end of the year, most are back where they started, or even further behind.

Why do so many people fail at their resolutions? Is it that we are weak-willed, or just too lazy to follow through?

An article in Psychology Today quotes several professors from different colleges who say that people make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves. However, they aren’t ready to do the work to change their bad habits, so the failure rate is high.

Another reason cited for failure is that people set unrealistic goals and expectations in their resolutions.

In the magazine article, psychologists identify what they call the “false hope syndrome,” which means the resolution is significantly out of alignment with the person’s internal view of themselves.

The syndrome reflects that, when you make positive affirmations about yourself that you don’t really believe, they not only don’t work but can be damaging to your self-esteem.

The other aspect of failed resolutions lies in the cause and effect relationship, said psychologists. You may think that if you lose weight, or reduce your debts, or exercise more, your entire life will change, and when it doesn't, you may get discouraged and revert to old behaviors.

Making resolutions work requires you to change behaviors and that means changing your thinking, to “rewire” your brain. Scientists have discovered that habitual behavior is caused by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for behavior when we’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by “not trying to do it” just strengthens it. Change requires creating new neural pathways.

Psychology Today recommends that people seriously wanting to make a New Year’s resolution they can achieve, follow these tips:

• Focus on one resolution rather than several.

• Set realistic, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 pounds in 90 days would be.

• Don't wait till New Year's eve to make resolutions. Make it a year long process, every day.

• Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big, requiring too big a step all at once.

• Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to.

• Celebrate your success between milestones. Don't wait for the goal to be totally completed.

• Focus your thinking on new behaviors and thought patterns.

• Focus on the present. What's the one thing you can do today, right now, to advance towards your goal?

• Be mindful. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens, moment by moment, rather than living in the past or future.

New Year’s resolutions date back to the Babylonians 4,000 years ago, when the people made promises to their gods in mid-March, which was the start of the new growing season, a rebirth of the Earth.

The Babylonians observed a 12-day festival in the spring. As part of that event, they promised their deities that they would pay their debts and return borrowed objects.

Rome, during the days of Julius Caesar, changed the calendar to make Jan. 1 the start of the new year. They observed the day with offerings to their multitude of gods and gave gifts of figs and honey to their neighbors.

Early Christians observed the new year by reflecting on past mistakes with a commitment to correct those deficiencies.

The bottom line is that the key to achieving a resolution is resolve. We have to make a conscious decision to avoid bad habits, such as poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, and then change our thinking to make these habits part of our everyday routine.


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