A New Year – a New Life? Positive New Year’s Resolutions and how one actually keeps them

The new year is upon us – and, as with every year on this New Year’s eve a multitude of folks probably also made all sorts of good resolutions! According to surveys at the turn of the year every second German plans to somehow change his/her life in order to be happier and more content. For several years there has even been a relatively constant top-ten-list featuring ideas (according to the Forsa Institute): In Germany with “avoid or reduce stress” and “more time for family and friends” two typical slowdown goals occupy the top two rankings, “more time for oneself” follows on place four. Among the top ten a number of health related resolutions continue holding their ground uncontested. Classic among them are “More Exercise”, “Healthier Diet”, “Losing Weight”, “Less Alcohol”, “and “Stop Smoking”. Beyond that on New Year’s Eve the Germans like to resolve “being more frugal” and “to watch less TV”. However presumably all these good resolutions are not all that original – I would think that in most industrial countries these devout resolutions made by people on New Year’s Day are probably similar. By the way, according to studies younger interviewees (under 30 years) are particularly eager to make good New Year’s resolutions.
The ancient Romans already venerated the Deity Janus (to whom our month January owes its name) as the God of New Beginnings – (at this point it is interesting to note that Janus is also frequently shown as having two faces – one pointing forward – presumably into the future, the other backwards into the past!) While at the stroke of midnight the New Year is welcomed differently in many ways, colloquialisms and a variety of expressions in the United States the prevailing welcoming expression is a simple: “Happy New Year”.

But then how did the author Roger Pfaff articulate it so beautifully: “Good resolutions are the first disappointment in the new year”. Or, to quote an old folk wisdom: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Psychological studies have revealed that in 90% of all cases a good intention alone is actually not sufficient to break old habits. A quarter of all those noble aspirations are already abandoned after a week, another quarter disappears a little later without a whimper. Only half of the respondents managed to permanently implement their resolutions and with that turn out to be happier and more content.

Self-control is obviously the most important prerequisite for hanging tough with good resolutions. Breaking with potentially bad or unhealthy but longstanding habits requires lots of will power. Unfortunately with us humans that is limited and we have problems retrieving it at will. When we happen to be tired, stressed or frustrated the likelihood of giving in to temptation or relapsing to old behavior patterns increases exponentially (here the classic examples are the chocolate bar or chip bag beckoning after a stressful work day although strictly speaking we wanted to stay on a diet in order drop those Christmas pounds). But then one can practice self-control and willpower just like exercising a muscle – just like with the muscle it means: It gets stronger the more frequently it is exercised.

Adhering to good New Year’s resolutions is also particularly difficult because they frequently actually represent changes in one’s life involving a chronological separation of benefits and effort. For instance, in order to achieve such goals we must immediately invest time, effort and discipline when we want to lose weight, stop smoking or be physically more fit. In that case at this point the reward (the pretty dress two sizes smaller, effortlessly climbing those steps without a red head and a smoker’s lung) is still far in the future. And it is exactly that, which unfortunately often disengages our self-discipline causing us to lose track of our resolutions. Persevering with good resolutions is equally difficult when vague purposive ideas are the basis because they automatically lead to vague (and with that very interference-prone) strategies for reaching a desired goal. However studies have demonstrated that a few tricks can be helpful in circumventing these problems:
Very specifically defined, difficult but achievable goals are most success promising and therefore the best motivators. Thus by itself “losing weight” is too vague – although “losing 20 pounds in two months” may be concrete, it is already too difficult. In order to persevere and permanently stay slim, most diet experts recommend not more than a weight loss of 500 grams per week.

It is best to disassemble every targeted goal into small, concrete activities (ideally in writing) – and that by always keeping the question in mind: “What exactly do I have to do for it now?” Beyond that one should personally exactly formulate the “why?” of the goal for oneself and display it somewhere in-view (for instance by pinning a photo of the future slimmer I on the fridge – in this case Photoshop can actually be quite useful!). Putting it in writing also enables checking-off the already accomplished partial steps to the goal. Plus the visualized goal always serves as a reminder of the primary motivation behind all of that (“why, in God’s name am I doing this to myself?”). By the way: for the long haul intrinsically motivated (therefore truly chosen by ourselves) goals are lots more motivating than those that are extrinsically motivated (therefore anything expected of us by others or even something we are being paid for). Consequently it is worthwhile to re-examine our own resolutions and check whether it is actually us who want to lose weight - or our partner is behind all that. In the latter case the chances that we are going to manage permanently mustering the will power to persevere are poor, indeed.

It is equally important to explicitly address all potential obstacles on the road to success. Here very important issues are: “What is that could fail?” – “What is it that would knock me of course?” – “Where could things get precarious?” Because in this way one can develop strategies to circumvent these obstacles in case they actually appear and, when and if the time comes one already has „plan B” ready, so to speak. For instance those who immediately decide to bike instead driving to work from now on should up front reflect on what to do on a winter day when it would potentially be too cold or slippery. In a case like that instead of taking the car (and thus relapse into the old habit) one could simply take the bus, get off at an earlier stop and walk the final stretch. In that way one would have at least a little more exercise! The more of those “what–if-variations” have already been developed up front, the better the odds of making it to the goal.

In order to definitely make this New Year a happier and healthier year we have a special offer for you: Your very personal iPersonic HealthCoach, providing universal scientific insights on the subject of happiness and health, processed specifically for your personality-type. Consequently every presented happiness- and health strategy represents the exact significance for your iPersonic type. In case this strategy is already one of your strengths, your personal HealthCoach will assist you in benefitting even more out of life. Where a strategy does not align with your preferences, there will be explanations as to what can cause potential problems for your personality type and how to avoid them. In that way you have the best makings of transferring the mentioned tips truly successfully and permanently into your everyday life – and hopefully 2015 will turn out to be considerably happier and healthier as a result.

I wish you and yours a great, healthy and happy New Year!