Resolute Resolutions


Two out of three of us make New Year’s resolutions. Only 8% keep them.  What’s the deal?


Why don’t we keep our resolutions?  Caprino and Andersen* say the answer lies between our ears.  In other words, what’s necessary is for us to focus on our mindset rather than our behavior.  For example, the most popular resolution is to lose weight.  Most folks know what to do (consume fewer calories, exercise more) and yet fail to lose and keep weight off.  Here is a framework from which to achieve your New Year’s resolutions:


Instead of focusing your resolutions on stopping your bad habits (eating too much, smoking, not spending enough time with family), think of them as learning to do something new (eating healthier; finding new ways to calm and de-stress; discovering shared activities that appeal to you and your family).   Once you’ve reframed your resolution to focus on what you want to learn, apply these four key steps:


 1.     Make Sure You Really Want To Do It.

If you’re attempting to make a change because you think you “should,” or because someone in your life has been pressuring you to do it, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be successful.  At the end of the day, we do the things we most want to do.

 2.     Be Honest with Yourself.

If you want to learn something new, you have to be honest with yourself about where you’re starting from.  For example, if you’ve been smoking a pack a day for 20 years, and you tell yourself quitting is going to “be a breeze” – that’s not helpful.  It’s more helpful to say to yourself something like, “I’ve been addicted to this stuff for a long time, and it’s going to take a real effort to find new ways to meet the needs that cigarettes fill for me.”  Be honest about what things might get in the way – things you may need to change.  For example, maybe your resolution is to exercise more.  Upon reflection, you realize that you think of exercise as boring and time consuming.  Acknowledging this will help you see that, in order to be successful, you’ll have to either change your self-talk about exercise or find ways of being active that are fun for you – or both.

 3.     Get Interested in What’s Possible.

Get curious about how you could make the change.  Curiosity is key to any kind of human growth — creative solutions to work and personal challenges develop from curiosity.  For instance, getting curious about how to overcome your negative beliefs about exercise might involve talking to someone who’s a late-onset exerciser, and finding out how he or she did it.  You might talk to someone about various different types or ways of exercising and give them a good college-try.

 4.     Be Willing To Be Not-Perfect.

People often start out doing the new behaviors they’ve targeted; for a few weeks they eat healthier, or don’t smoke, or drink less. Then one day they hit a speed bump; they have a hard day at work and go home to “just one” cigarette, they celebrate a birthday at the office and feel “compeled” to eat cake, or they have a few too many beers over a game.  Most people at that point throw up their hands and say to themselves, “I might as well go back to my old, bad ways.”  But there’s a powerful antidote to this.

Remember that, when we’re learning something new, we always make mistakes.  There’s no such thing as being expert when you’re a novice.  If you think of your new habit as something you’re learning to do, something at which you’re a novice, you’re much more likely to accept the fact that there will be stumbles along the way. And then, instead of taking a mistake as an indication that you’re doomed to failure, you can get curious about why it happened, and what you’ll do differently the next time…and keep learning.


If you shift your resolution focus from Here are all the bad things I’m going to stop doing to Here are a few new good things I intend to learn how to do ... it’s much more likely that your life will have more of what you want, and less of what you don’t want.

 *adapted from Caprino & Andersen, Forbes, January 1, 2014.