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How to make New Year’s resolutions that actually work

Don't get caught up in “all or nothing” thinking! Learn how to manage your goals for the upcoming year.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again. New Year’s is right around the corner and it seems to come faster each and every year. Geez! At the beginning of the year, many of us try to tackle the timeless questions “Why is it so hard to keep to our New Year’s resolutions?” and “How can we make this year different, the year we actually achieve our goals and break the cycle of resolution failure?”

Clearly, if you’ve ever broken a New Year’s resolution, you’re not alone. Studies show that up to 20 percent of resolutions are broken within the first week of January and 80 percent are broken within the first year. Not very uplifting statistics, for sure! One possible reason for this is that changing ingrained behavior can be very hard to do, especially when you live in an environment that enables these “bad” behaviors. So why do we even make these resolutions if they’re so hard to keep — or even doomed?

The tradition of making resolutions dates way back to early Babylonian times. The Babylonians believed that what you did on the first day of the year affected what you did for the rest of the year. Now, people simply believe New Year’s is the perfect time to get a fresh start. It becomes the ideal opportunity to change our intransigent bad habits. Most of us have an ingrained need to set new personal goals. The good news is, even our failed resolutions can be useful to us. But the bigger and perhaps more important questions are, why do these resolutions so often fail and what if anything, can we do about it?

One of the reasons our New Year’s resolutions fail is because we so often get caught up in “all or nothing” thinking. It’s very easy to think in black-and-white terms, i.e., either we’re keeping our resolutions or we’re breaking them. The problem with this type of thinking is that our feelings of success often fade after our first setback. This leads many of us down a slippery slope of failure, also known as the “snowball effect.” The snowball effect is where one minor misstep quickly turns into a major or a series of major missteps. Then we mercilessly attack ourselves for these failures, feeding into a relentless hopelessness that our goals cannot be achieved. So what does this all mean in terms of us actually reaching our New Year’s resolutions? Here’s a general guide to help you out.

1. Follow a plan, not a feeling.
Resolutions are often a want to, not a need to or have to, achieve a goal. This is why it’s so important to not exclusively rely on feelings of motivation, and instead rely on a well-devised plan.

2. Prepare for setbacks. If you don’t plan for setbacks, you’re going to set yourself up for failure. Setbacks are part of success, especially when you plan for them and then figure out how to handle them triumphantly.

3. Think through why your goal is important. Understand the true motivation behind your goal.

4. Break down your goals into small, achievable parts. Success breeds success. Don’t overwhelm yourself and set yourself up for failure.

5. Give yourself encouragement and surround yourself with people who support you. Sometimes you need people who believe in you and your goal, even when you don’t.

OK, now you should be all set. It’s time to go off into the New Year feeling good, hopeful and confident, that you can make your 2011 New Year’s resolutions become the reality you’ve been longing for.