Greater Resolution: Making NY’s resolutions stick

Published On January 26, 2016 | January/February 2016

Rather than stating a general goal, use the resolution to define steps for achieving that goal.

By Jon Black

New Year’s resolutions are a great American tradition. Unfortunately, so is failing to keep them. While as many as 40% of Americans make resolutions, according to a University of Scranton study only 8% keep them. Fortunately, success or failure is not a matter of chance. There are techniques which increase the odds of sticking to resolutions and achieving goals.

Many common New Year’s resolutions are related to health and wellness – getting in shape, losing weight, kicking a habit, or even improving your social life. Dr. Shirat Ling, an Austin physician, says she often advises patients regarding health-related resolutions and urges people to talk to their doctors about health and wellness related resolutions. Here, as a holiday present from AustinMD, are suggestions for keeping those resolutions and enjoying a healthier, happier 2016. No matter what the resolution, some techniques yield results.

Keep focused. The more resolutions made, the less likely that any of them will be kept. There will be other New Years. Pick one or two important resolutions and save the rest for next year.

Understand your behavior. Brad Kennington, Austin therapist, says one of the keys to a successful resolution is, “understanding the behavior to be changed.” Such behaviors, he explains, usually respond to a legitimate need. “The key is to develop other, healthier behaviors to meet that need.”

Be specific. The phrasing of resolutions can help or hinder success. Rather than stating a general goal, use the resolution to define steps for achieving that goal. Even consider using specific metrics. For example, rather than resolving “to lose weight,” include joining a gym and working out a set number of days each week in the wording. Dr. Ling warns against “the extreme, unattainable goal.” She suggests smaller, reasonable goals instead.

Monitor progress. Being aware of progress and what is working or not working is key to a resolution’s success. Each day, reflect on how choices supported, or didn’t support, the resolution. Some people find keeping a daily “resolution journal” helpful. It’s a great way to stay honest and may help reveal factors encouraging or undermining success.

Teamwork. Having a partner or a support network is vital for resolutions. Dr. Ling advises, “avoiding people who may be a negative influence on your bad habits, unless they agree to help you meet your goals.”

Don’t get discouraged. The destination is what matters, not the journey. Slipping up for a day, week, or even month doesn’t have to be the end of a resolution. Refocus willpower, reflect on ways to strengthen efforts, and start again.

Specific application of the techniques presented above varies from resolution to resolution. Additionally, particular resolutions often have specific tactics to facilitate success.

Losing weight/Improving Fitness

Viewing success as a commitment to an ongoing lifestyle change rather than meeting a one-time target Is essential for these resolutions. Defining the terms can also have a huge impact on success. Instead of a general resolution to lose weight or get healthy, consider specific targets addressing both diet and exercise. For diet, resolve to work with a dietitian or set a specific target for caloric intake. Dining out can be a threat to diets, meet that head on by resolving to only eat out once a week or save half of restaurant portions as leftovers.

Improving Your Social Life

Another popular resolution category involves improving one’s social life. There is extensive research linking a satisfying social life with general health and wellness. As a 2014 Mayo Clinic post put it, “Good friends are good for your health.” The benefits of an active social life include improving self-confidence, reducing stress, and providing a support network, all of which are linked to health.

The Mayo Clinic also advises that, “quality counts more than quantity.” Specifically, “While it’s good to cultivate a diverse network of friends and acquaintances, you also want to nurture a few truly close friends who will be there for you through thick and thin.” Choosing the right peer group can also provide reinforcement for other resolutions, such as those related to regular exercise or kicking bad habits like smoking. As Kennington, the therapist, points out, “Crucial in the change process is developing relationships that will support the new behavior.”

Building a social calendar around favorite interests and activities is a sound technique for sticking to these resolutions. Following through on social engagements is easier if it’s something you enjoy doing. In the age of the Internet, sites such as, FaceBook, or, make it even easier to connect with like-minded individuals.

Kicking Those Habits

There are more resources to quit smoking than ever before and those should be part of such a resolution. Have a conversation with your doctor about whether prescription medications to stop smoking are right for you. Nicotine replacement products such as patches, gum, or lozenges allow for unlearning the mechanical habit of smoking while weening the body off of nicotine. Many people experience benefits from therapies such as counseling, acupuncture, or hypnosis. For some people, vaping or e-cigarettes are helpful gateways to quitting. Be mindful the ultimate goal is to quit, not switch nicotine sources. Also remember data on the health benefits, or lack thereof, of vaping versus smoking is ambiguous and contradictory. Dr. Ling recommends smokers set a fixed number of cigarettes per day and work downward weekly, “without bumming them off someone or buying more,” she emphasizes.

To cut down drinking, setting specific targets is crucial. All beverages are not created equal. One beer, one glass of wine, and one shot of liquor have roughly equivalent amounts of alcohol. Because of carbonation and lower alcohol content, beer can create a sensation of fullness sooner. Resolving to only drink while eating can leverage the same principle. Drinking slowly can also help. Also consider setting specific parameters in resolutions, such as only drinking during specific days or situations.

To stop drinking entirely, a variety of prescription medications are now available. Talk with a doctor to see if they are appropriate. Though it may seem obvious, resolve to get all alcohol and barware out of the home and keep it out. If you feel you have a drinking problem, don’t handle it with a New Year’s resolution, seek professional help.

The urge to smoke or drink is often strengthened by specific situations. Coffee and alcohol are common catalysts for the urge to smoke. Stress and social gatherings are frequent triggers for both smoking and drinking. Identifying personal triggers and building mitigators into resolutions helps avoid this pitfall. Stay away from triggers until the urge to indulge has been kicked. Some triggers, like stress, can’t be avoided entirely, but alternatives can be built into resolutions. “Find another source of stress relief, such as exercise or meditation,” says Dr. Ling.

Focusing on the positive in resolutions encourages success. Frame them to emphasize what is gained, not what is lost. Be proud about feeling healthier or resolve to do something fun with the money saved by kicking habits. According to Dr. Ling, cutting out one cigarette a day saves about two dollars a week, numbers which add up significantly over a year. Remember, they’re called habits for a reason. Slipping up occasionally doesn’t mean a resolution has failed. Gather your resources and give it another try.

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