Why New’s Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

Post by Gary Lee PC

The obvious increase in advertisements for weight loss programs, gym memberships, and smoking cessation plans can mean only one thing; the New Year must be here! It is human nature to assess our lives during such a time, including deciding what improvements are needed. Unfortunately, experts estimate that only about 15% of New Year’s resolutions achieve any level of success. So why are resolutions so popular and yet so ineffective?

In most cases, what we wish to change about our self is a worthy goal; lose weight, get in better shape, stop smoking, stop drinking alcohol, or stop spending so much money. In reality however, many of our negative behaviors are rooted in either an addiction (alcohol, gambling, sex, smoking), or result from a previous trauma or current stressor. How many of us, for example, eat more when we are stressed or unhappy? The issue therefore is not about losing weight, but rather is about what is causing us to eat more. In reality, addictions, and trauma or stress related behaviors cannot be overcome by shear will-power. Most serious behavioral modification requires intentional treatment and strategic planning.

So does that mean we should give up on New Year’s resolutions and the hope of changing our life for the better? Absolutely not! Positive change can occur and here are some ways to take the chance out of change.

  • Keep a short list. Most of us create too many resolutions and are quickly discouraged because we are overwhelmed by all that needs done.
  • Be specific in what you want to change. Most goals are too broad and difficult to measure. For example, most of us want to lose weight. A better way to phrase it is to lose 15 pounds by May 1.
  • Create a strategic plan to reach your goal. If your resolution is to improve your computer skills during the next year, then be intentional. Enroll in a computer class, build a library of reference manuals, and find someone who can answer your questions.
  • Modify your habits. Changing major behaviors often begins by changing smaller intrinsic habits. If you are trying to lose weight but stop at the bakery on the way home two or three times a week, take a different route home. When you crave a snack, substitute fruit for sweets.
  • Identify impulsive behaviors. We are more vulnerable to impulsive decisions when we lose track of our goals. If you are trying to save money, don’t go shopping for fun. And if you must go to the store, have a specific list of items you need to avoid the impulse to buy other things you want.
  • Celebrate small victories. Track your progress and celebrate the incremental positive changes that are occurring along the way.
  • Recognize when you need help. Some changes require the assistance of trained professionals. Don’t hesitate to seek the help of doctors, counselors, or a spiritual leader for issues too complex to handle on our own.

Gary Lee is a licensed professional counselor, specializing in individual and couples counseling, addiction recovery, and trauma therapy. He is part of the Counseling Alliance, a practice located at 1251 Kemper Meadow Dr, in Cincinnati, Ohio.


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