9 Ways to Keep your Resolutions

Champagne, eggnog and too many cocktail wieners can sometimes result in some pretty outlandish New Year’s resolutions. You have to admit that it’s a little tricky to ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’ when you’re trying to balance a lampshade on your head AND count down to midnight. So let’s fast-forward to the harsh reality of the next morning. In the light of day, integrity will still be a key ingredient of good mental health. In short, any promise (to yourself or to others) that’s based solely on the date has a very good chance of failing.

Success with anything, be it a New Year’s resolution or an emotional or financial commitment, boils down to one vital element: Setting goals. Sadly, procrastination can often be the biggest enemy of an effective follow-through. Our forgotten goals gather dust in the psychological attic, out of sight and out of mind. 

Learning to convert your desires into reality is a critical part of your psychological well-being. The better you formulate your goals, the more likely it is that you’ll achieve them. As this becomes a habit, you’ll feel better about yourself, and you’ll become a more effective spouse, parent, employee, boss, girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever. In extreme cases, consistently failing to follow through on goals can lead to depression. The depressed person feels powerless over his ability to get anything done. He becomes mentally and emotionally paralyzed.

Avoid that paralysis by setting goals that you can keep. Here are nine tips for doing just that:

1. Be Realistic. Just as you shouldn’t make promises to others that you’re not prepared to keep, you shouldn’t make false promises to yourself either. Be prepared to follow through. You’re the only person you can’t fool, and you’ll probably be the most unforgiving. This can spark psychological problems.

2. Examine Past Attempts. Try to identify what didn’t work in the past. Don’t just go on “gut feelings.” Gut feelings can help get things started, but you have to examine the facts to make sure you don’t make past mistakes all over again.

3. Give Yourself Credit. If you had partial successes in the past, give yourself credit for them! If you quit smoking for 8 weeks last year, but started again, at least give yourself credit for what you did. What sustained you for those two months? How can you keep it going this time?

4. Take Baby Steps. With goals that seem overwhelming, create momentum by setting ‘mini-goals.’ The energy may build slowly, but it will definitely increase over time. Achieving your goals can become a habit.

5. Beware of External Influences. Friends, family, even the news (or what passes for news) can help or hinder your efforts. For example, someone trying to stop drinking will usually avoid bars. Someone trying to start a business will do well not to talk about his ideas with negative (or jealous) people who say things like, “It will never work.” Do you really think that the media pundits and ‘experts’ who predict economic goings-on would still be trudging to work every day if they REALLY had the low-down on stocks, interest rates and the rest? Look past the bright lights and see all that vapid prognostication for what it is.

6. Visualize Yourself. Create a picture in your mind about how you’ll feel and what you’ll be doing once your goal is accomplished. This sends a message to your subconscious that achievement is possible, even likely. It can become a positive, self-fulfilling prophecy.

7. Monitor your Progress. Be objective, but don’t obsess. Stay in contact with the reality of what you’re doing or not doing. For example, people trying to lose weight find it useful to keep track of how their clothes fit.

8. Talk Nicely to Yourself. Don’t punish yourself with words like “stupid” or ‘idiot.’  Stick with the facts: “What’s working or not working here?” or “What’s the next step?” Be objective, and guiltlessly enjoy positive feedback when it’s deserved.

9. Select Help Carefully. Talk to somebody you trust and respect to help you see through honest errors or psychological problems. Beware of well-meaning (yet self-serving) agendas that loved ones may have when advising you. It’s easy to fall into evasions and rationalizations. An objective outside observer can be helpful.

On that note, this objective outside observer would like to wish all of you, particularly the many people who respond to this column with their thoughts and suggestions, a Happy New Year filled with confidence, self-esteem and psychological health. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Life is still — and always will be — a beach!