New Year’s Resolutions

While the figures for 2011 have not yet been published, heading into 2011 a majority of U.S. residents — 56% — thought it was not likely at all that they will make a New Year’s resolution for the coming year while 44% believed it is at least somewhat likely that they will. When Marist asked the same question in December 2009, 52% did not plan to make a resolution for 2010 while 48% did.

Younger Americans are still among those who are most likely to make a resolution.  In December 2010 58% of those under the age of 45 said they will resolve to improve an aspect of their life compared with 34% of those 45 and older.  In 2009, those proportions stood at 60% and 40%, respectively. Men and women were on equal footing here.  44% of men and the same proportion of women — 44% — resolved to make a change for 2011.

The Marist polls also found that while about 65% of people who made a resolution in 2008 kept their promise for at least part of the year, 35% never even made it out of the gate. Indeed, when you wake bleary-eyed on the first day of a new year — or decade — resolutions to “cut back” and “moderate” seem both an excellent idea and an impossibly hazy dream.

Wonder What the Dalai Lama Would Do?

Here’s a video clip of the Dalai Lama’s 18 recommendations for New Year’s Resolutions. (If you have trouble playing it, right click the link and download the source file.)

According to Alan Marlatt of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, who studies “mindfulness-based relapse prevention,” which uses meditation and Buddhist teachings and practices to help people break bad habits,
(Read “Battling Addiction: Are 12 Steps Too Many?”)

“Between stimulus and response, there’s a space, and in that space is our power to choose our response, and in our response lies our growth and freedom,” says Marlatt, quoting author and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. Marlatt says, “Mindfulness gets you into that space.”

Being mindful may involve traditional meditation, sitting quietly and emptying your thoughts of distractions, and breathing deeply and slowly. But in Martlet’s method, these same traditional methods are used to focus your awareness on thoughts and feelings that result in undesirable behavior. Simply put: If you train yourself to recognize the triggers to undesirable behavior you can choose to resist them. “When there’s a fork in the road, craving is pulling you one way. Well, what’s the other way? You have to look down the other road and see where it takes you. Then you have a choice, instead of being on autopilot,” says Marlatt.

One tactic Martlett recommends for resisting those urges and triggers is called “urge-surfing,”  being mindful that craving and urges are like a waves — the craving or the urge rises to a peak, then crashes. This happens whether you
yield to the urge or not (most people maintain the fallacy that their  craving will escalate unless and until they give in). Giving in to cravings and urges actually reinforces the undesirable behavior— resisting reinforces resistance. Marlatt advises watching your urge, noting its peak and “surfing” it, rather than allowing it to wipe you out.

Another technique is to use willpower is like a muscle — the more you train and us it, the stronger it gets;  but like a muscle it snaps if overloaded. That’s why experts recommend setting short-term goals that are “moderately difficult, realistic, concrete and measurable.” As with physical exercise programs, you need to start at a level that challenges but does not overwhelm; only by meeting the challenge can you achieve a sense of achievement and success — and the drive to move on to greater challenges.

Hang out with People who are better Models and Imitators of Good Behavior

Consciously and unconsciously, people tend to imitate those around them. So surround yourself with people who can also be role models. “Make sure that people you hang out with are people who look and act the way you would like to. Social imitation is the easiest form not only of flattery but of self-improvement,” says Stanton Peele, author of Seven Tools to Beat Addiction. (Read “In Old Age, Friends Can Keep You Young. Really.”)

Social support is critical to changing all kinds of behavior. A good support system can not only help you through slip-ups but also help keep your New Year’s resolutions from taking over your life. Rather than obsessing about what you shouldn’t be doing, think about things you should be doing to enhance your life. The distraction will help you curb bad habits. The experts tell us to focus on our higher goals and positive behaviors, things that both sustain you physically, mentally, spiritually, and complement your life. Meaningful activities that give you pleasure and we should learn to engage in them regularly and proactively — whether it’s visiting the sick or homebound, participating in a ministry, taking a class or doing volunteer work (experience personal joy and meaning by helping others) — by focusing on positive, meaningful behavior you’ll  have less time for the cravings and urges.

What are your resolutions for 2012? Share your resolutions with us in a comment.

[Sources:  Marist Polls, Pebbles and Pundits, ät last accessed 2011-12-21; Maia Szalavitz. “How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions: Advice from the Experts.” at last accessed 2011-12-21]


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