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Broken Resolutions? How to Get Back on the Wagon

By Martha Michael

Holding on Your Resolutions

It's been decades since Americans were united in welcoming the new year with this level of enthusiasm. But flipping the calendar does not necessarily result in immediate changes, including the resolutions we consider to better ourselves. If you decided in December it was a good time to drop a bad habit or begin a healthy practice, how is it going?

Accept Some Backsliding

After a month or two of resolutions that you established or reignited on the first of January, chances are good you have lost some of the steam you had in the beginning. From diet and exercise programs to learning a language, the commitment you start with can be difficult to sustain -- especially this year.

The Cleveland Clinic website has an article suggesting we lessen the emphasis on drafting dramatic resolutions in 2021. Considering the great number of stressors Americans endured last year, there’s no reason to add to those burdens by expecting you can make and maintain over-the-top promises to change.

Cleveland Clinic psychologist Adriane Bennett, PhD, offers tips for making realistic goals that elevate rather than bog down individuals who have the heart to keep up the good work. It’s still a good idea to try new things, but maybe choose smaller changes.

“Traditional New Year’s resolutions are often too big, too vague and they seem to be framed in all or nothing terms -- you either do it or you fail to meet the resolution,” Bennett explains. “Instead of focusing on one big or drastic change, it could be more helpful to focus on smaller steps or smaller indicators of change that are more concrete.”

For better results you can take things more slowly. For instance, instead of vowing to lose 40 pounds, just begin by adding fruits and vegetables to your meals. You can advance your plan over weeks or months until you’re eating fewer calories and sticking to healthy choices over junk food. Knowing yourself helps you choose resolutions that are right for you. It doesn’t make sense for an occasional jogger to wake up and run a marathon.

Bennett also suggests that you make your goals clear because it’s too hard to gauge your success with vague promises such as to “eat healthier” or “sleep more.” For resolutions related to your health, tracking your progress is an effective tool. You tend to stay more motivated and you can spot patterns of behavior that can be altered to keep up your momentum.

It is possible to sustain your resolutions, Bennett says, when they are realistic and immediate. If it’s something you can’t implement for several weeks, it’s less likely to work. Also, it helps to share the experience with someone who can hold you accountable and celebrate achievements along the way.

Suggestions for Change

New Year’s resolutions may not be your thing. If that’s the case, it’s not too late to consider some shifts toward greater health and happiness. Good Housekeeping has a list of “Achievable New Year’s Resolutions” for 2021 that include the typical workout programs as well as tips to feed your mind and foster feelings of peace.

The list includes:

  • Try new recipes
  • Join a club
  • Create a cleaning schedule
  • Book regular chiropractic care
  • Buy some indoor plants
  • Take the stairs whenever possible
  • Sign up to volunteer
  • Add audiobooks to your workout
  • Use family history in your décor
  • Regularly sanitize your phone
  • Join a yoga class with your partner
  • Donate old clothes

For people who tend to recycle the same promises every year and have already fallen off the wagon, it may be that the usual choices don’t apply this time around. Between the pandemic and economic challenges, it may help to recognize that this year is different than most and if you already bailed on your resolutions, it’s understandable.

“There has to be some acceptance that falling off the rails will likely happen and it’s OK,” Bennett says. “Once it happens, we then need to focus on how to get back on track. We will need to be kinder and more patient with ourselves, especially as we try to make these changes more permanent.”

This year there are people all over the world who are hoping to completely turn the page on 2020. Whatever the timetable, you can still be hopeful there’s always room for improvement.

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