UW Today

This is an archived article.

December 23, 1998

Don’t trip over your New Year’s resolutions

If you are like many Americans, somewhere in the next week you’ll draw up a list of New Year’s resolutions. You’ll pledge to start on a diet, vow to exercise three times a week, promise to stop smoking or maybe try to cut back on your alcohol consumption.

Then you’ll spend hours wondering how you can keep your resolutions and why you made them in the first place.

But those resolutions aren’t necessarily doomed to fail. There are ways people can make sure that they achieve their goals, according to University of Washington psychologists who have been studying the factors that best predict success in keeping New Year’s resolutions.

To be successful, Alan Marlatt, director of the UW’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center, and Elizabeth Miller, a UW doctoral candidate in psychology, suggest that you:

? Don’t wait until the last minute on New Year’s Eve and make your resolutions based on what is bothering you or what is on your mind at that time.

? Do have a strong initial commitment to make some kind of behavior change.

? Do develop coping strategies ahead of time to deal with problems that certainly will come up later.

? Do keep track of track of your progress. The more monitoring you do and feedback you get, the better you will do.

? Don’t frame your resolutions as absolutes such as, “I will never do X again.”

Miller, who last year studied how people fared in keeping health-related pledges – the most common type of resolution – believes confidence and commitment are the secrets.

“The keys to making a successful resolution are a person’s confidence that he or she can make the behavior change that’s required and having the commitment to make that change,” she says. “Resolutions are a process, not a one-time effort, that offer people a chance to create new habits. Even if people are successful, they need to follow-up on their behavior.”

Persistence also can pay off. While people normally make multiple resolutions, last year’s study indicated that only 40 percent of people who achieved their No. 1 resolution did so on their first attempt. The rest required multiple attempts, with 17 percent finally reaching their goal after more than six tries.

Marlatt, who has looked at the topic of resolutions for more than 20 years, believes it’s important to look at the process of making behavior changes and New Year’s resolutions in a positive light.
“Take credit for success when you achieve a resolution, but don’t blame yourself if you fail. Instead, look at the barriers that were in your way. See how you can do better next time and figure out a better plan to succeed. You do get to try again and can make behavior changes throughout the year, not only at New Year’s,” he advises.

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For more information, contact Miller at lizza@u.washington or (206) 543-6694.