Carol Landau, PhDHealth Blog - Wellness

How are those New Year's resolutions working out?

Published on 2011-06-01 by Carol Landau, PhD

With June approaching, it is a time to check on your New Year’s resolutions.  How are they coming along?  We all know the answer to this question for most Americans: not very well.  Estimates are that less than 15% of us can keep a New Year’s resolution for even a few months.  Here’s why.


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Many New Year’s resolutions involve changing an addictive behavior like smoking, overeating, or drinking too much alcohol. These are some of the most difficult habits to change and the changes must be maintained over time.  To lose just one pound of weight, for example, you must consume 500 calories less than the amount that maintains your current weight for one week. (500 calories x 7 days = -3500 calories= one pound of weight loss.) On the other hand, if you eat one our two multi-course fat laden meals or rich desserts in a weekend you can gain a pound.  In contrast, other resolutions may require only a few hours, like cleaning your closets  

Another issue is that many people enthusiastically leap to a resolution on December 31st without planning ahead.  And without first trying to increase their motivation.  Research suggests that we don’t just wake up one morning and change.  Successful behavior change requires, first, an increase in motivation.  Making a list and reevaluating the pros and cons, for example, can do this.  Following up on the weight loss example, the short-term enjoyment of consuming a large hot fudge sundae may not really be worth the increased cholesterol, or the tight fit of your new jeans. The idea is to convince yourself that the issue is extremely important to you and therefore worth the long-term effort.

The next step involves environmental planning and preparation.  Purge your home of problematic foods.  Stock up on healthy choices.  Break bad habits like snacking every time you watch TV, because then TV becomes another trigger to eat.  Reward yourself, on both a short-term and long- term basis.  If you persist with the new healthy eating plan for a few days, you might buy yourself a new book, etc.  After a few months, you might go to a day spa or buy new workout clothes.  But resist the temptation to reward yourself with, yes, more food.  This type of planning is crucial and can be applied to any problematic behavior.

If you did not maintain your resolution, take heart:  you can learn from you mistakes. Re-evaluate and adjust the plan.  Did you take on too big a task?  Maybe you should aim for a 5 pound, not a 20 pound weight loss at first.  Did you forget to include social support, like talking with a friend or going to a support group?  Did you overeat or smoke because you were stressed?  Next time, you can first work on developing new coping skills, like meditating or walking when you experience stress. And you are not alone.  People who have been successful at maintaining New Year’s resolutions report that it took them five or more successive attempts before they could maintain their changes. But they persevered.

Once you have identified a behavior that you are highly motivated to change and have created new plan based on what you learned from previous efforts, you can try again.  And you don’t have to wait until next January.

Carol Landau, Ph.D.


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The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.