Reflection and Your New Year’s Resolution

Reflection and Your New Year’s Resolution

Reflection and Your New Year's Resolution

The New Year’s experience inevitably leads us to reflect, on who we are, who we want to be, where we’ve come from, and where we are headed. This is the time of the year that people commonly engage in self-inventory. It’s a process that, buoyed by the promise of a new year, often ends with resolute statements to improve one’s life. Goals are set, and determination put on display for all to see. New Year’s resolutions fundamentally speak to commitment, with people across the globe and across time using such rituals to motivate change. But, the optimism and sense of opportunity that seizes those who so confidently commit themselves to New Year’s resolutions will, the majority of the time, fade rather quickly.

According to two recent studies 1,2, 66 to 92% of people fail to meet the goals tied to their New Year’s resolutions. Why? Both studies identified unrealistic goals as the primary reason (up to 35% of the time1) that people fell short of their New Year’s resolutions, with another 33% giving up their commitments simply because they never bothered to measure their progress.

In the spirit of helping you reach a New Year’s resolution, here are a few tips designed to push people toward their goals –

    • Be realistic – be honest with yourself and vet your goals by someone you trust, to ensure that you define goals that are within reach. Set yourself up for success. If you’re new to jogging and generally out of shape, setting a goal to run in a marathon might be unrealistic. Maybe start with a goal to run 2 miles, three days a week at first.


    • Break it down – what are the baby steps that you need to take in order to reach your ultimate goal? The more steps that you can map out and concretely define, the better. Scaling the steps that need to be taken in route to your end goal will help you to build momentum, and to enjoy small successes along the way. Instead of plainly deciding to lose 20 lbs., maybe set goals to:
      1. Research and pick a diet plan in the next week
      2. Fill out a food-log over a 3-day period in the week after your research, to figure out how many calories a day you typically consume
      3. Then revise your diet to shave off 10% of your caloric intake, by reducing the amount you eat and/or substituting in healthier foods
      4. Next, schedule 30 minute walks in the evening, with a plan to push your walks to 45, then 60 minutes over the next 2 months
      5. Finally, schedule an appointment with your doctor to field his or her feedback on your diet plan.

      Is 20 lbs too much to lose?

      Maybe set a goal to lose 5 or 10 lbs at first, then reassess your goal of 20 lbs, and figure out what works and what doesn’t in your plan.


    • Keep track – the more concretely you define your goal and the steps needed to reach that goal, the easier it will prove to monitor your progress. Ideally, use an app on your phone that is easily accessible, and easy to use, to mark your progress. The more closely that you track your progress, the more quickly you can modify your plans. Smaller adjustments demand less work and tax your motivation less compared to major overhauls. If you get to a point that you feel like you have start over, because your plan doesn’t seem to be working, your motivation is likely to plummet. The sooner that you realize a tweak is needed, and the simpler the adjustment, the more likely that you will continue on toward your end goal.


    • Be patient – the risk of engaging in New Year’s resolutions is that you lose sight of the here and now. People can become obsessed with the future, or the past, or become mired in guilt & self-loathing once they start to fall behind in meeting their goals. Don’t forget to breathe. Maybe you didn’t 100%, absolutely reach the goal that you set out to achieve by the beginning of spring, but did you achieve 90% of the goal? 75%? Were you determined to shed 20 lbs by Easter, but lost only 10? That’s still 10 lbs lost. That’s progress.


  • Share your goals – broadcast your goals to family and friends, to enhance your sense of accountability. (The two studies differed on this tidbit. One of the studies argued that announcements actually undercut a successful outcome. The authors2 determined that people who broadcasted their plans rarely followed through, because the simple act of announcing the plans often evoked others’ praise and support, with those emotional rewards dampening the motivation to actually initiate a change. Why buy the milk if you get the cow for free? Maybe, then, only share your plans with a close confidante or two.)

Basically, the key to fulfilling your New Year’s resolution, like any goal for that matter, is motivation. Particularly, it’s the ability to sustain your motivation despite missteps, slips, and/or disappointments that predicts long-term success. How do you recover if and when you cheat – if you indulge in a sugary dessert, check your Facebook page one too many times, miss a class, and so forth? Success is easy. It’s set backs and perceived failures that jeopardize our commitments.

Remember, if you cheat here or there, it’s not the end of the world. Look at those set backs as opportunities, to overcome and push ahead- as opportunities to be resilient. Finally, remember to give yourself credit along the way, regardless of how small or large your accomplishments. You don’t have to wait until reaching your goal in its totality before enjoying some success.



Dr. Kevin Murphy
AToN Center 888-535-1516

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