Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick by Asking Yourself These 5 Questions

Self on 01.01.13
Contributor bio | twitter

Photo: Colin_K / Creative Commons

I’m one of those people who make resolutions every single year, and like most of those people, my track record for keeping my resolutions is spotty. So why do I keep making resolutions? Because I believe in the power of people to change. This year -- I know in my heart -- will be different. I am going to keep my resolutions, and you can too.

If you’re feeling skeptical, the potential for positive change is a reality: the field of neuroscience points to findings in the arena of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to become rewired with new neural pathways, which is absolutely under our control.

Tap into your own potential to change and increase your chances at achieving this year’s resolutions by asking yourself these 5 questions.

1. What bad habits are you protecting?

Photo: Jenny Downing / Creative Commons

Let’s get to the bad news first: if you’re having trouble keeping a resolution, it’s highly likely you are protecting a bad habit. Here’s a perfect example for you, taken from my own struggles. I’ve been saying for the past two years, since my daughter was born, that I’m going to lose weight. Guess what I’ve done instead? Gained weight. Awesome.

The bad habit that I was protecting was enjoying wine, I would say on a near-daily basis. But a glass of wine is supposed to be good for you, right? As it turns out, not if you’re overweight. In my case, wine gives me permission to eat more food and to make poor food choices, making my goal of losing weight just short of impossible. But I really didn’t want to give up wine.

At the end of the day, the answer I had to give myself was, “Too stinking bad! If you want to lose weight, you have to give up wine.” So I am doing the unthinkable (for me): giving up all alcohol for a period of one year. One year offers plenty of time in which to shed the 20 or 30 pounds I’m looking to ditch, and to learn how to maintain my weight loss in a healthy way, without the added complication of making choices around my formerly-beloved wine.

What bad habit are you protecting? If you don’t even want to think about it, then there’s gold in them thar hills. Start digging.

2. What good habits are you avoiding?

Photo: Mike Baird / Creative Commons

Let’s say that your resolution is to get more exercise. That sounds simple enough. It might mean you want to walk more, or get to the gym to lift weights, or hit yoga class a few times per week, etc. In order to make that happen, there are probably a few other good habits that you need to instill. It might mean that you need to better organize your schedule. You might need to watch less TV. You might need to get up earlier. In order to achieve your resolution, chances are there is a good goal-supporting habit that you need to add to your repertoire that sounds like it’s going to be kind of a pain in the ass.  

If you’re like me and you want to lose weight, you might consider starting a food diary. Who in their right mind thinks, “Oh, yay! A food diary!” No. A food diary sounds like a terrible idea. However, it’s been well-documented that journaling your food intake dramatically increases your chances of losing weight. So I’m using Lose it!, the least painful method I know of tracking my eating habits. I’ve also enlisted a very generous friend to look at my reports to encourage me and keep me honest. I have much higher hopes for my food journal now that I have the support of the Lose it! app and my accountability buddy.

What good supporting habits are you avoiding? If you’re really cringing when you think of the changes you actually need to make in order to stick to your resolution, then it’s time to cook up ways to make these changes more palatable.

3. Do you actually believe that you can be successful? Why? Why not?

Photo: Abi Paramaguru / Creative Commons

“Do I believe I can succeed?” This might be the most significant question, because the belief that you can achieve your goal is a crucial element of your campaign. When you believe in yourself, you are more likely to silence sabotaging thoughts or impulses and go into problem-solving mode. When you know that you can overcome and get out of your own way, it promotes a positive progression towards success.

If you have doubts that you can succeed, then you need to address those doubts. If you don’t really believe that your resolution can be your reality, then there’s no reason why you would actually dedicate the time and effort necessary to follow through. As Joel Osteen says, we are telling our future with our words. “Be positive, or be quiet.” Do you have doubts? Let’s turn them around.

For me, even after my major coup of giving up drinking successfully, I was haunted by major doubts about my ability to lose weight when that single change didn’t produce the results I had hoped for. So I decided to track my eating, but then my doubt became the food diary, the thought of which was just…blugh. I tried tracking on my own for a while, but I was, frankly, really crappy about it. The answer came to me in a dream, which was to enlist my friend to help me stick with it.

Name your doubts as they come on board throughout your journey. Ask yourself how you can change the answer from, “I doubt it” to “Yes, I can do this!”

4. What resources can you dedicate to your effort?

Photo: milena mihaylova / Creative Commons

I use a broad definition of “resources” when it comes to things that can help serve your efforts. This can mean time, money, friends, supporting habits – anything you can throw in to make it more likely that you will achieve your goal. A lot of what I already discussed here revolves around resources. For my goal of weight loss, here is a list of resources that I’m dedicating to my effort:

  • Giving up wine.
  • Changing my schedule so I can work out more often.
  • My food diary, a.k.a the Lose it! app.
  • My friend, a.k.a. my weight loss coach.
  • My weekly menu and food shopping habits.
  • Drinking tea when I’m feeling snacky.
  • Journaling to organize my thoughts and help prevent emotional eating.
  • Developing more efficient work habits to decrease feelings of overwhelm (another cause of emotional eating for me.)
  • Acceptance that I will make mistakes and a willingness to keep going anyway.
  • A weekly blog post with an update on my progress.

What resources can you throw in to support your efforts? What’s your accountability system – whether it’s a program, a group, a paid professional, or a buddy? What big changes can you make that will get you closer to success?  Sometimes we think small changes are best because they will be more gentle, but sometimes these tiny changes allow us to leave one foot in the past and leave us closer to backsliding. You can keep your goal small and focused, but pull out all the stops and dedicate strong resources to support your success. Recognize that a small goal might still mean big change.

Even if you only plan to make a small, gradual change, what resources will you dedicate to your effort?

5. What excuses are you making?

Photo: Scott Fairchild / Creative Commons

The single most important thing that helped me give up drinking wine was to witness the excuses my brain generated from a detached mental state, without letting myself be convinced of them. I wrote down these excuses so that I could observe myself like a scientist. Then I wrote down statements that were counter to these excuses that painted a more helpful picture.

When you first start out with your changes, before you’ve formed new neural pathways, your brain is going to try to get you back into those well-worn ruts and habits. You’re going to notice a stream of backtalk coming from inside your noggin: sabotaging thoughts, excuses, reasons why you can forsake your own intentions. You might become aware of some excuses you've relied on in the past. Notice when excuses crop up, because it will happen. Make your resolution non-negotiable.

Write down the excuses as they come and recognize them as the lies your brain is generating to keep you on the old path. When you resist over and over again, you begin to form new patterns and habits and your brain will eventually begin to cooperate with your new reality. In time, you will notice yourself contributing thoughts and impulses that support you in sticking to your resolution, and the changes will become easier and easier to abide by.

To help you achieve your resolution, I created a simple download with these 5 questions so you can answer them for yourself. Good luck, and feel free to reach out to me and let me know how it works for you.

Top Articles on Weight Loss Resolutions
5 Ways to Stick with Your Healthy New Year's Resolutions
7 Tips for Weight Loss Resolutions That Actually Work
5 Keys to Building the Self-Discipline Required to Meet Your Goals