American Academy of Clinical Psychology

Recognizing and Promoting Advanced Competence within the Speciality of Clinical Psychology

New Year's Resolutions!

11 Jan 2016 7:40 PM | AACP (Administrator)

Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions this year?  The idea of a fresh start offers interesting possibilities.  With the aim of finding some useful research based information about New Year’s Resolutions, I found an article on the American Psychological Society website and thought it would be a good resource for ideas.  Much to my surprise, the article was quoted from a 12/31/15 article by Carolyn Gregoire in the Huffington Post: Everything You Need To Know About Making New Year's Resolutions.”

An earlier article said that only 8% of those who make New Year’s Resolutions actually follow through with them!  However, there are ways to increase your probability of success in this endeavor.  To paraphrase Gregoire's article, there are six (research based) steps you can employ to increase your likelihood of following through with your New Year’s good intentions.

First, “Ask, don't tell.” In one study, people were 14% more likely to follow through on a specific behavior if they were asking a question about something new they wanted to do.  For example, write your resolution as a question or have a friend or relative ask you about your intention:  “Will you stop eating French fries for the next four months?” or “Will you walk an average of 10,000 steps everyday this month?”

Second,“Stop to consider any potential obstacles.” New York University psychologist Gabrielle Oettingen has found that mental contrasting helps in reaching goals. Using this technique, a person contrasts the vision of attaining their future goal with a review of current or future personal characteristics or other obstacles that can interfere with reaching their goal.  This is a mental “dress rehearsal” that helps a person better prepare for achieving goals.

Third, “Get intrinsically motivated.” Internal motivation that is consistent with personal goals and values is correlated with success in achieving one’s goals.  Doing things because we feel we “should” does not work very well because it leads to doing the right things for the wrong reasons.  When we pursue goals that are consistent with our internal motivation, we are better able to focus on the immediate reward of living our values in the pursuit of our goals – and we are more likely to follow through with our plans.

Fourth, “Make your resolution realistic.” As noted by psychologist Lynn Bufka, We are more likely to achieve small goals that are attainable.  So rather than saying “I will walk an average of 10,000 steps per day this year,” start out small and build the foundation for a sustainable habit. Set small goals that can be renewed and revised as you progress.  Ask yourself, “Will I walk 6,000 steps everyday this month?”  This can be renewed and revised as you gain experience and confidence in your personal track record of success.

Fifth, “Keep your resolutions to yourself.” Contrary to popular opinion, you may be less likely to achieve your goals if you announce them to others ahead of time.  The article noted that “when you experience someone else's approval, it gives you a ‘premature sense of completeness.’ So you already start to enjoy the desired outcome in your mind.”  Why follow through if you feel you have already completed your goal? 

Sixth, “Put it in your calendar.” One way to help ingrain a new habit is to make an appointment with yourself for a specific time devoted to the pursuit of that goal – just as you do for other important activities of your day and week.  Having a plan and an appointed time for working on your goal helps establish your new habit.  However, if you have to reschedule, don’t lapse into self-criticism – other appointments need to be changed once in awhile and so may your personal goal appointments need occasional rescheduling.

Whatever your goals, apply your psychological knowledge and skills to increase your probability of achieving them and enjoy the process!

You can read the full article and access the associated references by clicking here.

Mary Ann Norfleet, PhD, ABPP

(The topics and opinions expressed in the blog are those of the author and are not official positions of the Academy.  They are presented as information and food for thought.)


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