New Year’s Resolutions: This Time, Keep Them

December 29, 2014

By Philip R. Muskin, MD Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center

Each year about 50 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. The most common ones (no surprises here) are to lose weight, to get better organized, and to spend less money. Other popular ones include staying fit, stopping smoking, falling in love, and spending more time with family. But how many of us do you think keep our resolutions?

Okay, what did you decide? Sadly, only 8 percent of people manage to keep their New Year’s resolutions.

Why then do we bother with New Year's resolutions? The end of the year seems like the perfect time to set goals for the next year. It is also a time that encourages self-reflection, e.g., where have I been this past year or what have I done/not done? Talk of resolutions is everywhere. News anchors chat about them, and newspapers have articles about them; in fact I am writing about them right now. And we have been taught that setting goals is important, which is true. It all comes together for many of us to join the New Year’s resolution excitement.

Yes, setting goals or making resolutions is a great idea—as long as you do so in a way that makes success more likely.

First, define your resolutions so you have a realistic chance of keeping them. If you want to lose weight, for example, set a sensible goal, including a realistic time frame. If you try to lose 20 pounds in two weeks, you will fail. (As you should—such rapid weight loss is unhealthy.) Perhaps a goal of 5 pounds over the next month would be more realistic.

Second—and perhaps even more important—every resolution needs to contain the methodology you will use to achieve it, e.g., portion control, reducing alcohol intake on a set schedule, or a specified amount of time spent exercising each week. Without a methodology to achieve the goal, it won’t happen. With one, you stand a good chance of success. And succeeding at achieving a resolution is gratifying—sort of a gift only you can give yourself.

If this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” try not to let last year’s failed resolutions ruin it for you. “Resolve” to have fun in a way that does not leave you wishing you had not had so much fun. Happy Holidays to all!