Put some resolve behind New Year’s resolutions

Don't set yourself up for failure in achieving your life changing objectives for 2013.

Good intentions are generally part of New Year’s resolutions, but it takes more than that to achieve success.

If you’ve decided to be a slimmer, drug-free, nicer human this year, remember that more has to change than the last number on the 2012 calendar.

Zach Walsh is an assistant professor of psychology at UBC Okanagan, and co-director of the Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law, and he doesn’t discourage resolutions.

“Just realize there are no easy answers. There are no quick fixes; no secret answers. Instead, use logic,” he advises.

Making resolutions to do something different or change your behaviour the next year has become a New Year’s Eve social tradition.

Whether you’re intent on rediscovering your waistline, freeing yourself from the addiction of nicotine, dragging yourself out of the arms of your favourite alcohol, not snapping at your mate or keeping closer tabs on your money—resolutions can be serious business.

Some people also make New Year’s resolutions as a lark. But is there actually a serious side to that without proper planning.

Others eschew resolutions—particularly at the beginning of a new year—but once they talk about their plans, it can turn out they have decided to make a change. It’s just not in the form of a New Year’s resolution.

However it’s done, the same desires crop up year after year. Resolutions generally revolve around quitting something like smoking or drinking or wasting money; or about having more fun with friends and family and being a better person.

Fitness and eating habits frequently crop up as resolutions. Everyone realizes they could be healthier.

Walsh is encouraging about making a decision to change your behaviour, whether you do it at the beginning of a new year or not, but he’s realistic about the results. “There’s nothing magical about it. Maybe it’s because society has a tendency to look at changes at the beginning of a new year. I suppose it’s a better time than during a holiday to the south of France. Normal times are a better time to make changes,” he says.

That said, he advises that it’s a good strategy to change your physical environment. For example, get rid of the ashtrays and the cigarettes.

“Put out lollipops instead. Take some concrete steps to prepare,” he suggests.

It’s also good to have support. “Social pressure can be a motivator. However, if group support is essential to you, do be prepared to lose it at some point, and go on your own,” he recommends.

Walsh says it always surprises him to see people who are not setting up their environment before they embark on a change. For instance, to see a smoker who wants to quit leaving cigarettes all around the house. It’s important to make a plan. Losing 10 pounds may not seem like a big deal, but it will have a big impact on your life, so you need to prepare ahead of time.

Get expert help to maximize your efforts, or at least read a book about it. At the least, make a plan that includes some replacement for the change and also change your habits around that behaviour.

Support your changes with some concrete plans.

Spend some time considering what to expect.

Above all, be prepared for a relapse, he advises.

Abstinence has a violation effect, and relapses are a chance to learn, he says. “Don’t use it as an excuse to give up. Instead look at how you can continue on with your change. Learn from the failure instead of wallowing in pity. We are human and it’s human to relapse. It’s what makes us lovable,” he says.

“It’s a waste of time to beat yourself up about your shortcomings. Unless, of course, you enjoy beating yourself—then go ahead,” he adds.

Walsh says there’s a predictable model of the stages of change:

1. Pre-contemplation

2. Contemplation

3. Planning/preparation

4. Action

5. Maintenance

6. Relapse possible

The biggest challenge is to change your behaviour. “If that behaviour didn’t have appeal, you would behave that way,” he gently reminds.

The challenge is to move from stage one to stage four and expect change to occur without planning. Resolving to lose weight is too general. A more concrete goal is needed.

Relapsers should consider whether they actually meant to do that and whether making the resolution is actually a backward punishment. “There are no positives about that,” he adds.

So be warned. Lay the proper foundation for your changes in 2013.