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How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick

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Depositphotos_13981481_xsNearly half (45%) of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, according to a University of Scranton report released in January, 2014. The study showed that by June, less than half stuck to their January 1st proclamation. Is it really possible to keep New Year’s resolutions? Should you even bother?

New Years resolutions are tricky. It’s not hard to be tempted in the momentum of the season to take on too much, and thus set ourselves up for disappointment. As a psychologist, I often advise my clients not to declare resolutions per se, but instead to articulate the things in their life they are already improving, and resolve to continue their growth. If you have already chosen to pursue therapy, it’s clear you’ve already resolved to make change. Likewise for fitness routines, and eating plans that are already in place and working. For many, resolutions can involve renewing your commitment to continuing doing the things in life that help you orient towards optimal growth and health. But for those who have not selected a means for self-improvement, there are ways to identify and stick to commitments for change. People can, and do, keep their New Year’s resolutions, and you can too. The key: Make a detailed, realistic plan, that plans for and integrates your resistance.

I know this might sound so simple that it may not even need the planning steps. After all how hard can it be to spend more time with our partner? This is where respecting your inertia and current habits come in. Making a change can be harder than it sounds, and even impossible without planning. You can’t expect different results with the same behavior.

Let’s take an example of a New Year’s resolution often brought up in my practice: I want to spend more time with my partner.

First thing to do is break down the goal into the nitty-gritty, choosing one specific way to implement the resolution, in this case: Set a date night once/week.

  1. Plan ahead. Choose the date nights for a full month. Post them on a calendar shared by both you and your partner. Pick the frequency that seems manageable.
  2. Set a budget for the month, that can help guide your choices.
  3. Select the activity and venue. You can brainstorm ideas, but don’t leave it theoretical. Decide what. Decide where.
  4. Schedule the babysitter. Make sure there’s a backup babysitter plan.
  5. Include an aspect of novelty in the date. Novelty is a prime way to keep us committed to anything, especially with regard to romance and relationship connection.
  6. Divide up roles: Who is going to be responsible for all of the above? Perhaps it works better in your relationship for one partner to plan all of the date, or for you to split up the planning. For example, one partner might prefer to be creative about selecting the activity, and the other to arrange the logistics.

When you want to make a change in your life, a detailed plan allows you to take action in a manageable way. A clear, easy to follow plan fools resistance. Small steps get you started, and keep you going. Little by little, you’ll find the new behavior getting easier, and yourself getting into the new habit. (Rule of thumb: Habits take 21 days to change.) Continuing to take small, efficient steps towards your goal is how to make your New Year’s resolutions stick. It’s never too late to make a change, just be sure to choose one aspect of your life at a time, and make a detailed, delineated plan. This is how habit change can occur successfully, any time of year!

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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