SHERIDAN — Depending on how you look at it, January 1 is either the start of a new year full of possibilities or the beginning of a stressful few weeks or months of failed attempts at New Year’s resolutions.
“I think most people would like to change some aspects of their lives or their habits and for some, having a date as a reminder or anniversary often serves as a trigger or catalyst to begin that process,” said Thomas Schnatterbeck, a clinical psychologist at Northern Wyoming Mental Health, about the psychology behind setting new year’s resolutions.
“I think it is a good time of year to review where you are at in terms of your overall plan,” he added. “Part of making a plan is doing a review and it is fair to review and make adjustments. Not necessarily that you are going to start over from scratch, but it is a process over time, rather than a year to year event that is a success or failure.”
Some of the most common resolutions include quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthier and getting more exercise. Although these are laudable goals, professionals say that efforts in achieving them should be taken in small steps that are attainable, rather than attempt an overreaching, whole-life change. Most professional advice suggests to start small, work within your abilities, and focus on changing just one behavior at a time.
For instance, after buying that gym membership, aim to use it two or three times a week, rather than six or seven.
If you are trying to reduce your debt, concentrate on paying off one credit card or one large account. If you are trying to eat better, focus on reducing sugar intake or eating fewer processed foods, rather than attempting a strict, specialized diet or regimen.
Having too broad or too ambitious resolutions are often the reason for failure for many people. According to a 2010 American Psychological Association poll, fewer than one in five adults (16 percent) report being very successful at making health-related improvements such as losing weight (20 percent), starting a regular exercise program (15 percent) and eating a healthier diet (10 percent).
Schnatterbeck said you can increase your odds of success for any of your resolutions by enlisting the support of family, friends or co-workers. Hitting the gym for a cycle class is usually more enjoyable with a buddy and quitting smoking is easier when those around you are working at the same goal as well.
“They seek out a community of support,” said Schnatterbeck, about those who ultimately become successful in attaining their goals. “They hang around like-minded people and let their friends know through social media or their communities that they are trying to do this and the people around them help with accountability.”
Schatterbeck added that resolutions aren’t just for adults. He said children can also set age-appropriate resolutions and receive positive encouragement from adults to achieve them.
“Even young kids can start developing habits, with parents asking them the kinds of things they would like to change,” said Schnatterbeck. “Whether it is making new friends or trying out a new talent or skill or developing an interest that may be they didn’t have before.”
Schnatterbeck emphasized that no matter your age or what your resolution is, you should be prepared to experience setbacks on your way to goal fulfillment. Skipping the gym or indulging in a brownie should not signal you to throw in the towel on your resolution, but to accept it as a normal part of the process of making a lifestyle change, and move on.
“Don’t beat yourself up for having a mistake or a lapse,” he said. “New habits take time to develop and movement towards goals is very individualistic. Willpower is kind of like a muscle in that it is strengthened by regular exercise.”