Broken resolutions? Not this New Year

January 1, 2020

I struggle with New Year's resolutions, too. Here are ways to make sure your resolutions (veterinary or otherwise) to grow and change this year have a better chance to stick.

Ready to rock your resolutions? We give you two big thumbs up! (kieferpix / stock.adobe.com)

Here we are again … the end of an old year and the start of a new. This is the time of year when people are making resolutions and pledges, intent on a new beginning for our country, our businesses and for us as individuals. How does this usually go? If you're like me, you can think of dozens of resolutions covered by the dust of procrastination. Want to lose weight? Make a resolution. Improve your health? Make a resolution. Stop a bad habit or begin a new behavior? Yup, make a resolution. That'll fix it.

Most of us make resolutions, and most of them fail-alarmingly quickly. Every year, New Year's Day starts feeling less like a fresh start and more like Groundhog Day. As Herman's Hermits sang in 1965, ”Second verse, same as the first.”

So, let's look at resolutions with a hopeful but critical eye. What were your New Year's resolutions last year? Were you successful in achieving them? If not, why do you think that was?

As I tried to think through my own resolutions (past failures and hoped-for futures), I went looking for some general tips on the internet to make them stick.

1. A good resolution does better alone-or in very select company

Don't try for an overhaul on yourself if all you need is a tune-up. Redesigning your entire life at once leads to inevitable disappointment. Focus clearly on one or two of your most important goals.

Concentrate on a resolution or two that will have the most impact ...

Unfortunately, most of us create too much resistance by injecting too many resolutions and goals into our minds. We write down a long list of stuff we don't like about ourselves or wish was different, things we want to accomplish or experience. This process results in too many expectations and too many goals. By year end, most will be forgotten. We end up-in our minds, but not our lives-with a long list of well-intentioned shortfalls. (Well, at least you've got a good start for next year's list, right?) Concentrate on a resolution or two that will have the most impact on your happiness, health and fulfilment.

2. A good resolution gets to the point

“I want to lose weight” or “I want to try harder at work” can't really be measured. And if you don't have specific benchmarks, you can't measure your progress.

3. A good resolution is attainable (be honest with yourself about this)

Highly improbable goals set you up for failure. Often, these goals and resolutions are too harsh and demanding. They leave no room for shortfalls, no room to fail. You wrote the long novel or you didn't. You built a $1 million business or you didn't. Failure (by a little or a lot) is pretty much inevitable in life.

Think about why resolutions failed in the past. Did you aim too high and crash too hard?

Change is daunting. It may seem as though you're making a sharp turn to adapt to a path paved with your goals. You may not know where to start and be simultaneously faced pressure to hurry up and make it happen. That pressure comes from your environment, your culture, your loved ones and, yes, from yourself. Even if you do know where the journey starts, looking at the long road ahead may feel as though it's too much, too soon.

Think about why resolutions failed in the past. Did you aim too high and crash too hard? In the back of your mind, did you always know your resolution was too hard? Did you beat yourself up for the problem and also picking a resolution you couldn't achieve and also failing at it? That's a lot of abuse. Change and improvement are gradual and require clear short-term goals.

4. A good resolution comes in bite-sized pieces

Remember the old joke? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Like elephants, goals should be in pieces. The more planning and breaking down the pieces or steps or markers of success in a resolution, the more likely you are to get there in the end. You set a clear, realistic goal-lose five pounds, save $30 a month, go for a run once a week-and decide exactly how you'll make that happen over a week, a month and a year.

If you a set a goal but have no plan for how you're going to get there, chances are you won't be successful. When you choose a resolution, think about specific sub-goals you'll need to hit along the way. Think about how you'll deal with setbacks and distractions (because they're bound to pop up). One meta-analysis of goal-setting found that thinking things through increases your likelihood of success. Seems obvious, but how often do we skip this step in trying for our dreams and setting resolutions?

5. A good resolution is on the clock

This isn't to make you panicky and rushed, and it doesn't mean you can't change your deadlines. But a time frame is vital for motivation. Where are you, where do you want to go, when do you want to get there? That's how you assess your short-term progress towards your ultimate long-term goal.

6. A good resolution is written down

Write down details of your resolutions and your motivations for them in a notebook. Check back with yourself regularly on your successes and what you're struggling with. Remind yourself of your original motivations.

7. A good resolution has rewards

Stop and celebrate your milestones as you work to achieve your goal. Throw your hands in the air. Dance around. Listen to a favorite song. Treat yourself to something that doesn't sabotage your goal. Smile. You deserve it. Your brain needs moments of joy and happiness to cement the lasting changes that need to come with a resolution.

8. A good resolution needs a little help from your friends

A temporary stumble does not equal failure.

Remember: A temporary stumble does not equal failure. It is at such times, when you've temporarily fallen off the wagon, that your support network is crucial. Carefully choose people around you who have shown themselves to be trustworthy, supportive friends. These folks will be your cheerleaders, your back-patters, your smiles and encouragement. Explain your plans to them. Let them know of ways they can help when the going gets tough, and if they truly care, they'll be there when you come calling during the hard times.

9. A good resolution needs forgiveness

You want something different for yourself this year. You want to be a better version of you. That means no more beating up on you. People with higher self-esteem and confidence are in a much better position to succeed. A dropped ball, a missed attempt or a momentary lapse must not be used as an excuse to give up. When that happens-and it will happen-you'll need to draw on your self-confidence and strength, recognize and be proud of your past achievements, and immediately forgive yourself and say, “I'm starting again now!”

10. A good resolution needs you

If your resolution is everything above-simple, specific, attainable and planned-your success is then largely under your control. Others can and will support you, but it's your own actions that need to change. Yes, it's scary to take responsibility for your future, but with all these suggestions, you're in a better position to consider the best ways to improve your life this new year.

You and your happiness are totally worth the time and effort.

So get started … and good luck!

Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.