New Year’s resolutions more achievable when specific

Goal setting

Dear Doctors: My husband teases me because I love making New Year's resolutions, but I have trouble keeping them. Some on my list for 2024 -- lose 10 pounds, start hitting the gym -- have been with me since the 1990s! Any advice on how to do better?

Dear Reader: First, know that you are far from alone. Research into the annual American rite of making New Year's resolutions finds that by the first week of January, one-fourth of participants have given up on their new behaviors. That number swells to almost half by the start of February. By the time December rolls around, only 10% to 20% of the people who made New Year's resolutions have succeeded in keeping them.

But this doesn't mean resolutions are futile. News stories about the practice typically stop with just the bad news. The same body of research finds that, six months in, 50% of people who made resolutions continue to be successful. And studies show that just the act of making resolutions, regardless of the eventual outcomes, can be beneficial. Resolutions are a type of analysis and planning. They can help someone evaluate their life, picture the future and clarify their short- and long-term goals.

When it comes to upping the chances of success, there are several things you can do. One is to set very specific goals, as you did regarding weight loss. You decided on 10 pounds. Next, map out a reasonable set of steps you will take to achieve it. That means breaking down a goal into manageable increments. Viewed over the course of a year, the 10 pounds you want to lose works out to less than one pound each month. By examining your eating habits, you can target a few small changes that can lead to that modest goal.

Rather than the very general goal of hitting the gym, why not begin with a specific -- and achievable -- plan of going once a week? Maybe start with a group exercise class that meets regularly, which can help the goal be more purposeful, and even fun.

The other half of goal planning is preparing yourself for the stumbles and slips that often happen along the way. Skipping a week of the gym or stalling out on weight loss do not equal failure. Let it be OK. Remind yourself of why you set the goals in the first place. Literally writing down the reasons in a list -- lower blood pressure through exercise, fit into last year's jeans -- can be surprisingly helpful. A reboot after a fumble can be challenging. That is where the community of a group exercise class, or an employer’s wellness program, can come in handy. And if your husband is willing, rather than teasing you about the resolutions you love to make, perhaps the two of you can make one together. A nightly stroll around the block after dinner is an easy one. That way you can both can share in the planning -- and in the success.

(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)

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