It has been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. Although not as certain as these, breaking New Year's resolutions is close.
Just a day or two before the calendar year changes, millions of us will make a personal promise to change our behavior for the following year. Some of our promises will be as broad as living a better life; others as refined as eliminating high fructose corn syrup from our diets. Both are commendable goals. The problem is that we fail to properly prepare for what will undoubtedly be an uphill battle.
Humans do not let go of familiar, long-standing behaviors easily. This is particularly true for behaviors that provide immediate and intermittent satisfaction (smoking) or prevent unwanted and annoying immediate outcomes (not exercising to avoid being winded).
It is possible to change. It just takes working hard and smart. Below are a few things that will increase your chances of success.
Be specific. Make sure your outcome can be measured in some way. For example, saying that you "want to live a better life" will be nearly impossible to accomplish. Why? Because living a better life can mean hundreds of things. Instead, set the goal of going to church or temple once a week, donating five hours a week to a charity or calling your parents weekly.
Don't overdo it. If you set too many goals, you are certain to become overwhelmed and give up. Similarly, don't try to change the world by March. Simple and realistic goals will more likely be met.
Keep your resolution in sight. There is truth in the saying "out of sight, out of mind." Put a note on your dashboard. Write your resolution on your bathroom mirror. Do anything that will provide you a constant reminder of what you promised yourself.
Form an alliance. If your buddy wants to stop smoking, make a pact with him. If you need to drop 10 pounds, find someone else who needs to lose weight. It is easier to accomplish a goal with another person who wants to succeed.
Move swiftly. The nail in the coffin of any good New Year's resolution is procrastination. If you made the decision to get into shape, then go to the store that day and buy some new running shoes. Don't wait until February to renew your gym membership. And certainly, don't say "I'll start when the weather gets better."
Meeting your New Year's resolution is not easy, but it is doable. If you are specific, realistic, aware, supportive and fast, you will be a new person this time next year.
Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. Email firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com. Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.