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January takes its name from the Roman god, Janus, who looks back to the past and forward to the future--a model for resolution-making.
Happier New Year
some tips for making resolutions stick
By Martha Coventry
Originally published on December 30, 2004; updated on January 12, 2005
New Year's resolutions--whenever they're made--need to be full of hope. When we voice what we want for ourselves in the coming year, we shouldn't think about how bad we've been in the past, but about what great possibilities lie ahead.
But we need to pay attention so that the thrill of a clean start doesn't turn into self-recrimination as we watch ourselves slide back into unwanted habits or, worse yet, not care enough about our dreams to follow through.
"We make resolutions every year as a kind of reckoning of the self when the long, dark nights start turning shorter and we think of new beginnings," says U psychology professor Marti Hope Gonzales. "But research shows that six weeks after people make their New Year's resolutions, 80 percent have either broken them or couldn't remember what they were."
"Write down your resolution at the top of a sheet of paper--in big, bold letters--then use the rest of the sheet to think about how you're going to achieve your goal," says Gonzales.
In order to be successful in your resolution-making, give your wishes some long and quiet thought--after all, you will use your resolution to guide you through the 12 months ahead and that's a serious commitment. Make sure it speaks to your heart and your true desires.
Once you've decided on your goal and experienced "the emotional buoyancy that comes with envisioning yourself as a new and better person," says Gonzales, there are steps to take to give you the sweet possibility of actually making your resolution real.
Gonzales suggests five things to do, all designed to make you feel happy and satisfied when December 31, 2005, rolls around.
- Watch your wording. Gonzales recommends using the words "more" or "better" in your resolution to give yourself credit for any effort expended in the past. For example, "I'm going to call my mother more often," or "I'm going to make a better effort to eat more healthfully."
- Don't just make a resolution, make a plan. "The articulation of a goal is not going to get you to that goal," says Gonzales. "Resolutions, in the moment we make them, have tremendous benefits in how we feel about ourselves. Savor that feeling. It's wonderful. Then think about the hows, the wheres, the whens, and the fallback options that are so essential. You need a roadmap to get you to your goal."
- Write it down. "Writing something down means it's going to stick with you longer than merely saying it out loud," says Gonzales. "Words can disappear into the air and never come back. Write down your resolution at the top of a sheet of paper--in big, bold letters--then use the rest of the sheet to think about how you're going to achieve your goal."
- Start simply. When making your plan, write down small things first that you can realistically accomplish. "Those are the things where we have the greatest odds of success, and success pulls us along," says Gonzales. Build in checkpoints along the way to assess your progress and readjust your plan, if necessary.
- Ask less of yourself. "The kind of self-change people identify in New Year's resolutions is not easy," Gonzales says. "Remember, when we lapse in our resolution, it's a clue that we need to revise the plan. Missteps are not a reflection of some personal shortcoming or of something wrong with the goal, they're an indication that we may be asking too much of ourselves. Identify what minor success would look like."
However you approach the new year, remember to take stock of all you have to be grateful for and use your resolution, if you make one, as a way to see your future with fresh eyes.