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If you’re reading this, odds are you’ve made at least one New Year’s resolution as statistics show that most North Americans do. Unfortunately, the statistics also state that most of us aren’t particularly good at keeping them.
The average, self-reported New Year resolution success rate for 20-somethings was a fair 39 per cent, but grow a bit older and the numbers go way down, according to a study published in 2002 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Folks over 50 report they only followed through on their resolutions 14 per cent of the time.
Given that each of our New Year’s resolutions represents our own personal distillations of our best intentions, the question of why we fail to keep them is an important one. Could we really all be just plain lazy?
I don’t think so, and as a physician with a focused practice in obesity, I work on a daily basis with patients who are trying to change their lives. Instead, I think most people have failed to add one or more of these five secret resolution ingredients:
1. Likeability: Really, you need to like it. Resolving to do something you can’t stand, regardless of how healthful it might be for you, is a recipe for quitting - usually in a hurry.
2. Specificity: If your resolution is to “lose weight,” “eat healthier,” or “exercise more,” you haven’t really laid out how exactly you’re going to get where you want to go. If you want to actually accomplish something, make sure your resolution focuses on the “how” you’re going to get somewhere, not where you hope to go.
3. Realism: If you’re a busy working parent with 12 hour work days and three kids to get out the door every morning, do you really think heading down to your basement gym at 4:30 a.m. is going to last? Be realistic with your goals and better to err on the side of easy than bite off way more than you can chew.
4. Patience: Healthy living isn’t a race with a finish line, instead it’s a never-ending marathon, and studies on habit formation suggest it may take the better part of a year to truly forge a new one. Slow and steady definitely wins this race whereby small steps will eventually get you a long distance, while a January flying leap is likely to only land you on your face.
5. Resilience: Life is not now, nor ever was, a straight line, and the fact is sooner or later you’re going to drop the ball. The key to successfully cultivating a new habit is not to throw in the towel when you inevitably have setbacks. Brush yourself off, pick yourself up and instead of asking yourself, “What’s wrong with me?” or, “Why do I always give up?” ask yourself, “What can I do today that will help get me back on track, even if just a little bit?”
And one last tiny little secret – you don’t need to wait until New Year’s to decide to make positive and healthful changes in your life. Any old day can be the start of a brand new year.
Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa and the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute – dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and you can follow him @YoniFreedhoff. His latest book, The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work, will be published by Crown in March 2014.