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Set New Years' Resolutions You Can Actually Stick to in 2023

I’m not usually a strong proponent of setting new year's resolutions. We don’t necessarily need a special occasion or a specific date to either start setting good intentions or to work towards self improvement. Perhaps my skepticism is also impacted by the disturbingly high failure rate of New Year’s resolutions. The statistics for success at the one year mark is as low as 9 to 12 percent. However, in recent years I have used the start of a new year as an opportunity to make small changes in an effort to set the tone for the year ahead, and have stumbled upon strategies that yield success. Additionally, more recent research into the New Year’s Resolution domain shows some promise. So, how do you overcome those odds and really stick to your good intentions?

The vast majority of New Year’s Resolutions set in the United States are related to physical health, meaning we at Zenith are well positioned to guide you towards success. Let’s take a look at why New Years CAN be an opportune time for goal setting, then let’s talk about some little things you can do to enhance the likelihood of your resolutions reaching beyond the month of January.

Keep the List Small

One of the easiest ways to hit self-destruct on your New Year’s Resolution list is by making it too long or overly ambitious. An overwhelming list can kill your motivation before you even get started. Although it’s great to have large goals and high expectations, taking small steps will make you more apt to hold strong. Also, this will leave you feeling more successful as you tackle one small piece at a time. For example, if your goal is to get stronger, you might want to start with a few short, 20 minute sessions per week, then add to this as it gets more and more routine to fit this into your day. Rather than requiring yourself to hit the gym for an hour session 5 times per week right off the bat. (Not to mention the latter strategy may result in a less than desirable run in with our friend, DOMS) Another strategy to work towards this goal could entail signing up for a weekly strength class. (more on that later).

Approach Oriented vs. Avoidance Oriented

What type of goals are we more apt to stick to? Let's look at the difference between approach-oriented and avoidance-oriented goals. An approach oriented goal is one that is improvement focused with a positive outcome in mind. For example, an approach oriented goal may be to run a personal best in the Marathon. An avoidance-oriented goal for the same situation may be to avoid getting beat by your arch(running)nemesis, and thus avoiding looking/feeling bad. One research study investigating different types of New Year’s Resolutions found a statistically significant success rate at one year follow-up amongst participants with approach-oriented goals. In other words, we are more likely to achieve our goals when they are motivated by a positive outlook vs avoidance of an undesired, invariably negative, outcome.

Use your Support System

Research also points towards the benefits of sharing your goals with others both to bolster support and to enhance your accountability. This may entail having a ‘workout buddy.’ Or, it may entail enlisting a friend that you touch base with about your goal at regular intervals to help you stay on the accountability train. Verbalizing your resolution alone builds some degree of accountability, and having company through the process makes the journey more enjoyable and rewarding. (those of you who followed this blog earlier in 2022 saw this with Jesse’s Resolution blogs…which he admits to have fallen off and plans on analyzing as well). If your goals are related to physical health, support can also come from the community around you in the form of a group exercise setting. Check out my previous post about group exercise classes available at Zenith to learn more about the proven benefits of the group exercise setting. We are adding in an additional weekly exercise group class in 2023 to help accommodate your goals and schedule.

Make Milestones

If you're like me, small incentives along the road can help keep the motivation flowing. It’s great to have big long term goals, but if you don’t have little markers along the way to gauge your progress, and to reward yourself for hard work, it sure is tougher to stick to them. When I first started training competitively, my coach used to write little incentives into my training plan after hard workouts. Although training is more of an ingrained (intrinsically motivated) habit now, celebrating little achievements along the way helped to keep the daunting process enjoyable. Although surely you intend for your resolutions to last longer than a month or two, intermittent check in points, to reflect and celebrate your progress towards the bigger habit/goal, make it more manageable.

Now that you’ve got some helpful tips and tools at your disposal, let’s take advantage of the “fresh start effect”. The fresh start effect is essentially the concept of taking advantage of the flipping to a fresh new calendar year to make those positive changes you’ve been contemplating. Perhaps one of the most promising findings into New Year’s Resolution research, is that folks who reported success with their resolution have a higher self-assessed quality of life. Making those small changes for a healthier you, can make for a happier you as well. At Zenith, we are here to help you follow through with your healthy lifestyle goals. We will go beyond physical therapy and injury rehab, by guiding you along the way whether you are new to exercise or a seasoned veteran exerciser.

1.Oscarsson M, Carlbring P, Andersson G, Rozental A. A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. Brown JC, ed. PLOS ONE. 2020;15(12):e0234097. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0234097

2. Beaulieu D. Use New Year's resolutions to boost patient adherence. January represents an opportune time to motivate change for a healthier lifestyle, experts say. Med Econ. 2014 Jan 10;91(1):38-40. PMID: 25211843.

3. Making your New Year's resolution stick. American Psychological Association. Accessed December 27, 2022.

4.Norcross JC, Ratzin AC, Payne D. Ringing in the new year: the change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addict Behav. 1989;14(2):205-12. doi: 10.1016/0306-4603(89)90050-6. PMID: 2728957.

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