While counting down to the new year, many people took the opportunity at the end of the last month to make a change in their lives. This annual tradition saw millions of Americans making adjustments for the next 12 months or more of, but all too often people give up these resolutions without ever realizing their goals.
January is a month whose very name indicates reflection and planning. Named after the two-faced Roman god Janus, who is associated with all beginnings, the month looks back at the past year and forward to the year to come.
Not surprisingly, many Americans take the opportunity to make a resolution on Jan. 1, something they want to improve on in the upcoming year.
According to a series of studies conducted by G. Alan Marlatt, director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, two out of every five Americans make resolutions every year.
Those who do not do so for two reasons. First many think the practice is absurd or antiquated and second because many do not want to set themselves up for something they do not think they will see to fruition.
Marlatt said that the most common resolutions people make concern personal health, especially weight loss.
The work-out bug has even caught those here at Michigan. LSA senior Janet Kandrevas has joined the millions of people who will try to get in shape this winter. Her resolutions is, “to work out everyday.”
There are two main categories of resolutions and one is more successful than the other.
“Generally people make one of two kinds of resolutions where they are trying to stop a habit or start something new,” Marlatt said.
“We found that people who are making resolutions to stop doing something do not succeed as well as those who resolve to start doing something.”
Once people have made their resolutions, they can choose to either tell them to others, or keep the resolutions to themselves.
While neither method is objectively right, the choice to keep resolutions secret or not can affect the success of a resolution, just as the type of resolution can.
People who keep their resolutions to themselves have a harder time keeping them, because there is little social support, said Marlatt.
“We found that people who make secret resolutions, in a sense they are concerned that if they don’t tell anyone about it they won’t know,” Marlatt said. “But on the other hand if you do tell people that can be helpful. You can get social support, which can be very helpful in trying to make a lifestyle adjustment. It is not easy, so a lot of people don’t tell others, so if they fail it doesn’t matter.”
If you want to quit smoking then it is best to tell your friends, so they will be able to help you. Friends can help you avoid situations where you might succumb to the craving for a cigarette or even, because they have no knowledge of your resolution, offer you a cigarette themselves.
LSA senior Joong-Hwan Bahng is one of those trying to quite smoking. He says so far he has been succesful in his quest to kick the smoking habit.
As many people who have made resolutions know, just because you made them doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed.
Marlatt tracked people who made resolutions to lose weight and those who sought to lose weight outside of New Year’s resolutions.
Three months later, those who had made resolutions to lose weight had gained, on average, half a pound, while those who used other means to lose weight had lost an average of half a pound.
While weight loss may not be a successful resolution, Marlatt’s studies found that those who decided to quit smoking had a high success rate. In his study, Marlatt found that after two years about one fifth of people who chose to give up smoking, were successful. These are surprisingly good results for any program for people who wish to cut back on smoking.
One key to success is in the phrasing of the resolution.
Those people who say that they will stop doing something immediately on Jan. 1 and not do it again are setting themselves up for a hard task, because many people will slip up and that is an inevitable fact. Resolutions phrased as ultimatums leave little room for adjustment after the first slip up or lapse, Marlatt said.
Those who give up after the first lapse often feel like they have failed. There is a better way to deal with lapses though.
“People who are more successful say, ‘I had a slip here, what happened?’ They look at it in a more practical way, ‘I made a mistake. What do I need to do to fix it?'” Marlatt said
Another key to having a successful resolution is to plan ahead and to try to figure out what challenges could come up.
“You have to be prepared and figure out what kind of things can throw you off course ahead of time,” Marlatt said. “After you make the resolution, keep track of how you are doing. Keep a journal and monitor your success. Pay attention to things that come up.”
Negative moods and social pressure can be disastrous to those trying to follow through on a resolution, so those should receive special attention when planning a lifestyle change.
Anyone who has been in a bad mood knows that people often cope with negative moods by eating, drinking or smoking anyway – and if those violate your new year’s resolution, then it is doubly important to be on the watch for bad moods.
Another effective strategy can be to re-evaluate a resolution on a significant date, such as a birthday or three months later and see how well it is going. This can give a person the opportunity for a fresh start.
“We’ve found a lot of people who were successful, maybe not the first time but maybe the second time,” Marlatt said.
But for those who did not stop amid the pleasantries of New Year’s Eve to make a resolution this year, there is still hope. The strategies for having a successful New Year’s resolution can be applied to any life change at any point in time.
“I think that if something is important enough to change, you shouldn’t have to wait until a certain fixed date to make the change,” University alum Stephanie Gray said.