Resolution Revolution: Dr. Tara's Sunshine Tips for Making and Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions

I have a confession.  I have never made a New Year’s resolution.  Even as a kid.  Perhaps this results from my self-reflective nature.  Working on myself and setting goals is just what I do — part of my commitment to a growth mindset.  As a therapist, I have also developed a heightened awareness of the potential pitfalls of resolutions.  Winter can already be troublesome for many.  With the darker, colder months come changes in sleeping, eating, socializing and activity patterns and sometimes dramatic drops in energy and mood.  Throw in the post-holiday overeating overspending regrets and we are primed for negativity.  Far too many times, I have seen women use resolutions as a guise for self-beratement.  They compare themselves to others, think about what they loathe about themselves, and mash their self-criticism into something that sounds like a New Year’s resolution but behaves more like a weapon for repeated self-punishment.  Suffice it to say, this is more destructive than helpful.

Another common pitfall is making vague and grandiose promises that are far from realistic.  Nonspecific goals without clear, measurable and timely action plans can leave us wondering where to begin and what to do.  How exactly are we to “be happy”?  What does it mean to “eat well”?  And is it reasonable to look like Beyonce two months post baby?  Let’s be honest — if we mash our self-loathing into one massive overwhelming resolution, we are setting ourselves up for failure.  And this is typically what happens: While over 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, the data suggest that fewer than 10 percent actually achieve their objectives.  

Instead, resolutions should be thoughtfully-planned, inspiring challenges designed to have us working toward positive, meaningful and achievable goals.  Sounds good, right?  But how and where do we begin?

Starting The Resolution Revolution: Planning, Personal Investment & Human Connection

It is important to remember that even desirable, simple-on-paper changes may not be easy.  Pick one or two specific goals that truly matter to you.  We are far more likely to succeed if we are personally invested in our choices.  We also need to be honest about our level of readiness.  Having both a heartfelt willingness to change and belief in our ability to do so puts us at a different stage compared to thinking we “should” start or stop a behaviour that we feel conflicted about.  Trust me — I would totally bomb at giving up sugar or alcohol since I am no where past the contemplative stage!

For some people, sharing their resolution with family and friends or even making a public declaration via social media can be motivating.  In addition to providing a support network and sense of teamwork, shared goals can help to establish an accountability framework with regular monitoring and feedback.

So to give an example, let’s say I am thinking that I want to exercise more.  As a resolution, this is pretty darn vague and hard to put a finger on.  It is difficult to monitor for progress or success, and there is no clear system for accountability.  A revamped resolution might look like this: “I walk my neighbour’s dog for 2 miles at 9 am every Monday and Thursday”.  In addition to helping out my busy friend (which would make us both feel good!), the agreement would assist in keeping me accountable.  Check out Dr. Tara’s Sunshine Resources page for information on using SMART principles to create and achieve your personal goals!

Strength in Numbers: Ask for Help and Seek Guidance

It is essential to remind ourselves that we aren't expected to do it all alone. This is human nature, not weakness.  People have different challenges & skill sets and asking for help reflects our self-awareness and courage.  It really does take a village!  As you set your goals and contemplate the potential hurdles ahead, consider what type of assistance would be most beneficial for your personal success strategy.  Perhaps your goal warrants consulting a nutritionist, physician, personal trainer, financial planner, life coach or mentor.  Try using the SMART formula and then share your revived and revamped resolution with Dr. Tara’s Sunshine.  Don’t forget to celebrate your progress along the way!