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It is reported that only 8% of people are successful in keeping their New Year’s Resolutions. Their goals seem reasonable enough: #1 — various forms of getting healthier such as losing some weight, quitting smoking, getting more exercise; #2 — doing more of some positive things like learning a language, doing some volunteer work, spending more time with family and friends, being kinder to people; #3 — stop squandering money and taking better care of one’s home.

If these wonderful long-term goals are so reasonable why don’t people just do them? Why do they even need a resolution? The reason is simple enough … there is a positive short-term reward for doing what one is already doing. Eating is inherently rewarding so it’s easy to overeat occasionally, and once one is addicted to smoking it feels better to keep smoking than to quit, and getting more exercise requires physical movement when it is easier for most people to just sit, and all of those things are made even easier by turning on the TV and having a beer and some chips.

The positive things are inherently off-putting because they require the expenditure of effort. Learning a language from a book or a course is like a punishment unless you are soon going to that country and then it’s easier to wait until you’re there and then muddle through. Volunteer work is just plain work and you don’t even get paid, so that’s a no-brainer and easy to avoid. Spending more time with family and friends would be easy if it was enjoyable but much of the time it isn’t, and lastly why be kind to people you don’t even know especially when they are so often doing obnoxious things? Why stop spending money on the little things you like such as eating out at nice restaurants, and hanging out at coffee shops, and buying stuff you like such as a new car and new clothes? What’s money for but to spend on things you want? You only live one day at a time and today is the day.

Every one of the New Year’s Resolutions has an unpleasant side which makes it easy to quit doing them, so why bother to keep doing them? That’s why 92% of ordinary people soon realize that their resolution isn’t worth the effort and just quit. Why waste the energy on something that’s unpleasant?

Okay – Assuming that your resolution has some real merit let’s consider how you can get through a month of doing it. After a month it will either be a new habit, and easy to do automatically, or it won’t and it might just as well be abandoned. So, step #1 — make sure you really want the resolution to become a permanent habit, or don’t promise to do something that you’re going to stop doing. Breaking a promise to yourself is a really bad habit to cultivate. #2 — Set a reasonable time limit on the new activity as that makes it easier to complete successfully. For a diet a month is probably maximum, and it is easier to say you will diet for a week, and then go for a second week after succeeding with the first one, and if you’ve done two weeks go for two more weeks. That way what you are doing is based on some real experience with success, and you’ve soon made it to a month. By then you can make a conscious decision to continue or not, and it isn’t quitting, because you’ve made your short-term goal, so it’s not failing but it’s making a decision to stop.

Now the controversial part: what to do when you have broken your intended resolution. The usual response is to just let it go and say you will try harder. But you soon forget, and then forget again and you become part of the 92% failures. You don’t even notice you have quit until some survey asks you if you had a New Year’s Resolution.

The solution to failing is to have a built-in punishment for failure. It can be self-administered and it can be quite small, but it needs to be real and complied with. For example, if you accidentally accept a cookie at a party that is off of your diet plan, then you must suffer some consequence… like skipping lunch. Well, that’s too much for just an accidental cookie, so make the punishment more appropriate, like waiting for ten minutes before eating lunch. That will remind you to keep your promises to yourself.

While setting up your New Year’s Resolutions, also make up your own easy punishments for different kinds of possible failures.

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