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Why you should lower your bar for New Year's resolutions Add to ...

Have you been to the gym every day for the past week? How is that diet going? Sorry if you’ve failed already. But don’t feel too bad. You were probably thinking too big. Stop. Rewind. Think smaller. Think “tweaks.”

Why do people choose Jan.1 for change? Can’t you start a diet, let’s say, on May 1? You know you can quit smoking on Aug. 14, right?

“Humans are creatures of habit and we as a society have designated New Year’s to be a time when we think about goals,” says Melissa Burkley, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Oklahoma State University. “If you don’t do anything different on Jan. 1 than you did on Dec. 31, other than say ‘I’m going to lose weight this year,’ odds are you won’t.”

I’ve learned my lesson. This year, I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions. I never keep them. Last year (like the year before), I resolved to give up chocolate and stop buying tabloid magazines. Well, on the evening of Jan. 1, I was quite content reading about Brad Pitt’s secret wedding, while eating a bag of M&Ms. But I didn’t eat the entire bag of M&Ms. I ate half. That’s a tweak!

The key is to essentially create a new habit. If you are trying to start a new habit, going to the gym every morning, explains Burkley, you need to think to make it automatic. Set out gym clothes the night before. When you wake up put them on immediately. It is harder to climb back into bed with sneakers on. After a few weeks of rinsing my dirty dishes before I put them in the dishwasher (tweak!), I’ll no longer need to think about it. My fiancé will be thrilled.

This urge to make resolutions is not your fault. The pressure is on! “Never in history have we been so bombarded with advertisements, infomercials, pop-up ads online,” says Burkley. “If you are starting out this year with a resolution to save money, you may want to avoid watching QVC and avoid shopping malls.” Resolutions put you in a very vulnerable place, especially the first few days.

This year, Ottawa-based Sheri Segal Glick, a lawyer and blogger at tryingtofindmyfunny.blogspot.com, wrote a list of resolutions. “The New Year is about happiness, which is why people say ‘Happy New Year’ and happiness is very strongly tied to self-esteem. This is why it is very important not to set oneself up for failure by setting unattainable goals. As such, here is my slightly revised list,” she writes. “Do not miss any episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Try to finish all chocolate and candy in the house in anticipation of next year’s resolution.”

That sounds like it’s going to be a happy year. The beauty of tweaks, as opposed to resolutions, is it is on-going. I can make a new tweak, if I choose, on March 16 or June 22. Plus, if you fail, trust me, you won’t feel so bad come 2014.

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