It’s Not too Late to Make New Year’s Resolutions That Stick

Most of us clinked champagne glasses this New Year’s Eve and resolved to change a behavior and improve our well being in 2012. But now, it’s almost the end of January, and that pledge could have already fallen by the wayside. But experts say it’s not too late to get back on track.

You’re setting yourself up for failure if you don’t have an action plan, which is a predictor of success, says John  Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and author of Changing for Good.  If your intention is to commit to something on Jan. 1, your targets should be established in December. You can own up to your lack of preparedness for Jan. 1 and establish a later start date one as late as the beginning of February.

When it comes to making resolutions, it’s important to make ones that are actionable, says Anne Elizabeth Quinn, a consultant to New York area health systems. The most common resolutions include smoking cessation, weight reduction and initiation of exercise, better financial management and technological issues.

The “mid-career set” may say “I’ll turn off my smartphone in the evening while boomers may resolve to “get onboard with” technology developments, according to Norcross.

Still, according to Norcross, it’s not what your resolution is but that it’s operationalized. Here are some tips to get you going:

Develop realistic, attainable goals. Vague goals seed vague resolutions, while grandiose goals result in resignation, says Norcross. If you’re worried about a toxic relationship, for example, you can measure the status of the relationship at intervals by consciously spending less physical time with your friend, or spending less time dwelling on the ramifications of ending the association.

Commit publicly. Public promises are more powerful than private decisions. By telling people about your pledges it will help keep you accountable.

Success begets success. Eliminating a problem overnight is unrealistic, says Norcross. Going cold turkey typically pales by comparison to taking gradual, incremental steps. “This works much better for our emotional system,” says Norcross. “Resolutions tend to remain when we build on previous successes.

Appreciate the middle-ground. Say you are in a toxic job in this challenging economy, you can’t just leave, but you can take gradual first steps. Become a bit more assertive and deliver messages like, “’I’m not comfortable with the way you’re speaking to me.’ This is far more effective than word piling on every complaint you’ve had for last two years,” says Norcross.

In the meantime, polish your resume, network with external business acquaintances and create some distance from your current colleagues.

Get back up on the horse. A temporary slip is not a permanent fall, says Norcross. About 75% to 80% of successful resolvers have slipped on more than one occasion in the year, and more than half report to have benefitted from the slip. “The average smoker fails five to seven times,” says Norcross. “You can always get back on track.”

Reward yourself. Self-monitoring increases your probability of keeping a resolution and allows you to prioritize behavior, says Norcross.  Celebrate your success with a healthy treat or a compliment.

Don’t overwork willpower. Spreading yourself thin with too many resolutions will wear you out, according to Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University and co-author with John Tierney of Willpower. You have only one supply of willpower, a real form of mental energy powered by glucose in the bloodstream, which is used up as you exert self-control. The deficit allows the different resolutions to compete with each other

Norcross adds that will-power, self-control and self-efficacy, the psychological term for confidence, is “behavior specific.  For example, if you’re training yourself to floss your teeth every night, your self-efficacy is limited to flossing not to another action like playing the piano.”