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Six ways to create and keep New Year’s resolutions

Main Line Health December 28, 2016 General Wellness By Paula Durlofsky, PhD

The early Babylonians believed that what people did on the first day of the year affected what they did for the rest of that year. Many of us see the new year as a perfect opportunity to start over or to change bad habits.

According to several surveys, the most popular resolutions people make are related to health and fitness, like vowing to eat better, lose weight, exercise, drink less alcohol or caffeine, or finally quit smoking. Others promise to become more financially responsible by spending less and saving more.

Unfortunately, over 70 percent of resolutions are broken by the end of January, and this can leave a person feeling discouraged and even more despondent than before.

Resolutions are complicated, and being able to achieve them usually requires taking a hard look at our thoughts and behaviors. Setting goals keeps us on track, but getting rid of our old habits is difficult, and may even require the help of a professional.

Compulsive and repeated behaviors such as overeating and overspending can be the result of an underlying anxiety and/or mood disorder. For example, some people may overeat as a means of coping with a troubled marriage or some other distressing life situation. Others may overspend because they are depressed and feel happier when they are shopping.

Examining and treating these underlying psychological issues will not only help us to understand why we continue to engage in negative behaviors, but also help us develop a plan for achieving long-term change.

Striving for self-improvement and setting goals for ourselves gives us a sense of hope for the future. Be sure to make your goals a priority, be specific, and work at them daily. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Below are six tips to help you stick to your New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Your goal should be specific. Make your goal concrete and, if necessary, break it down into smaller steps. For example, if your resolution is to consume fewer carbohydrates, resolve to eat carbohydrates at only one meal per day rather than resolving to eliminate carbohydrates entirely. Once you are successful, begin to decrease your consumption further.
  2. Write your resolution down and put it somewhere where you can see it on a daily basis. This will help you to stay focused.
  3. Hold yourself accountable by letting others know about your resolution.
  4. Have coping strategies in place to deal with obstacles that may arise along the way. For example, if your goal is to drink less alcohol you may consider skipping parties or events that involve a lot of drinking or bring a sober friend along to provide you with support and to help keep you on track.
  5. Reward yourself at each milestone. If you resolve to spend less money, then reward yourself by getting a massage instead of going shopping. It is important to be conscious of the rewards you chose.
  6. Ask for help. Try to be open to seeking professional help when needed. Knowing when to ask for help takes a great deal of courage, strength and wisdom.

Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center.