These Tips Can Help You Achieve Your Resolutions
As an internal medicine physician for 36 years, I was never fond of New Year’s resolutions. They always seemed artificial and destined to fail. And if you’ve ever made one, you probably know what I’m talking about.
In fact, about 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions each year, but by February, 80 percent of them have failed. Only eight percent of people who make resolutions maintain them through the end of the year. But every year we still set “temporal” goals tied to some event — the flip of a calendar or the start of a semester.
I am a big advocate for changing unhealthy behaviors into healthy ones, however. If you want to tie that decision to the New Year, that’s okay, but before you decide on a path to make a change, here are some things you should consider to make that change stick.
Discuss the change you want to make with your physician.
Your primary care doctor is your partner in health. He or she knows you (or should know you) and knows both your strengths and weaknesses. They’ll also be able to help you develop a plan for success and make sure that carrying out your resolution is healthy. For example, if you want to quit smoking, your doctor may be able to recommend alternatives or counseling that can help. If you want to get more exercise, they can help you figure out if the type of workout you’ve chosen is safe for you. They may also be able to offer additional support. Take advantage of their knowledge.
Ask yourself, “What is my ultimate goal?”
Change is hard. I always asked my patients imagine what they want to do. For example, maybe you want to go to your daughter’s wedding or be around for your grandchildren’s graduation. Those kinds of meaningful goals are more important to focus on than losing a few pounds or eating healthier. Once you establish that “want” or “goal,” you can work on the one thing that you can improve or change to reach that goal.
Focus on approach-oriented goals.
There are two types of goals or resolutions that people set: Approach-oriented and avoidance-oriented. Approach-oriented goals are typically positive – we’re taking an action that produces a positive outcome. For example, you go to the gym because you want to stay fit and strong. It makes you feel better. This is a positive outcome you want to embrace.
The other kind of goal is an avoidance-oriented resolution. You go to the gym because you don’t want to have heart disease. You want to avoid a negative outcome. While laudable – heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. — avoidance-oriented goals don’t succeed as well as approach-oriented goals. We experience less satisfaction with these kinds of resolutions and may even feel more negative feelings about the progress we’re making and lower self-esteem.
Another example of this: Say you want to stop eating sweets — that’s an avoidance-oriented goal. But if your goal is to eat more fruit (which should help with the sweets), that’s an approach-oriented goal. In a study published in late 2020, researchers found that people who make New Year’s resolutions were more successful when their resolutions were approach-oriented.
The same study found that people who received at least some support along the way did better. For example, some of the participants had to name at least one person responsible for supporting them along the way. This kind of social support – whether from your spouse, a friend, people you interact with at the gym or online, a coach or trainer or even your primary care doctor — can be affirming and can hold you accountable. This support can help provide positive feedback and keep you going. The people who have the most success keeping their resolutions going had frequent interactions with their support group.
What Resolutions Should I Make?
Most people make resolutions about being physically healthier (exercise), losing pounds or maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthier and quitting smoking. These are all great goals and ones we should be aiming for. When I discuss goal-setting with my patients, I generally suggest two important things:
- Treat food as medicine. When you go to the grocery store, read the labels. If it has more than a few ingredients, you don’t want it. Eat whole foods and stay away from the processed junk, which is metabolic poison.
- Move every day. Try to get a half an hour of anything – walking, running, bicycling. But the main point is get moving. It’s good for your muscles, it’s good for your heart and it’s good for your well-being.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you’re unsuccessful. Accomplishing meaningful goals is difficult. It takes planning and support, and even some of the best planned resolutions go awry. But if you follow the tips above before you set your resolutions, they’ll have a better chance of surviving deep into the New Year.