When the clock strikes midnight New Year’s Day, tradition dictates it’s time to start making progress on that New Year’s resolution one set to try and better themselves.
New Year’s resolutions typically involve losing weight, exercising more often, quitting smoking, saving money, getting organized, starting a new hobby and spending time with family and friends.
Robert McGrath, a University of Wisconsin-Madison distinguished psychologist emeritus, said only 8 percent to 10 percent of New Year’s resolutions will be kept throughout the year.
However, if one identifies an area where he or she believes a change is needed in the New Year and takes steps to achieve it — treating it like a goal — the success rate of resolutions can be much higher.
After hearing someone reword a New Year’s resolution to a New Year’s goal, Lori Cox, of Poynette, started thinking the same way and found success with completing recent New Year’s resolutions. She plans to think of it in the same way in 2018.
“Because a goal is something I strive to achieve,” Cox said. “A resolution I feel is more a promise and if you break it you’re more likely to get dejected and feel like a failure. But if you do a goal … then you feel, ‘Alright I can still work towards that goal.’”
Why set a resolution?
Chad Moeller, owner and operator of ShockBody Fitness in Reedsburg, said some people may find urgent reasons to set a New Year’s resolution.
“Things like relationships and fitness, those things are important but they tend to be non-urgent,” Moeller said. “If you neglect those things all of the sudden they become urgent like when somebody has a heart attack… We tend to react to situations where we have so many things pulling us in so many directions.”
However, Alexander Stajkovic, a UW-Madison Business School professor, said New Year’s resolutions are mainly just for social reasons and are “not real goals.”
“They are just a social convention that people use to have a little fun at the New Year’s Eve party,” Stajkovic said. “They are not specific, they are not challenging, they are not attainable, they don’t have a reasonable time limit, (a) plan is not written down, there is no deadline, social support is not listed.”
Kim Lohman, director of the Treatment and Recovery Center at St. Clare’s in Baraboo, said another reason why New Year’s resolutions won’t last is because a resolution more than likely won’t be realistic. Those with busy schedules can find a hard time fitting the resolution into their schedule, which can cause guilt.
“So I want to exercise three days a week and I go and I sign up at the local gym,” Lohman said. “However, I haven’t looked at my schedule which I leave for work at five in the morning and I don’t get home until 5:30 (p.m.), I need to get dinner on the table, I need to help the kids with homework or I have another commitment that I need to go to.”
A SMART goal takes into consideration certain obstacles one may face, like a busy schedule and takes attainable steps to accomplish it. SMART is an acronym to help with healthy goal setting and stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.
“Maybe instead of going to join the gym you say I want to walk an extra how many steps in a day,” Lohman said. “So on my lunch hour I’m going to make sure I go and walk around the office two times. That is a SMART goal, it’s specific, it’s obtainable, it’s measurable, it’s relevant, and it’s timely and it doesn’t cause guilt.”
Lohman suggests when setting a goal at the New Year to keep a time limit and take little steps to complete it. The key to setting a successful SMART goal is to identify why the person is setting a goal in the first place and why it’s important to the person setting it.
“The goal has to be important to me, not my family, not my doctor but to me to make it be something I’m going to follow through with,” Lohman said.
McGrath said when coming up with a plan one needs to think positive about small steps one can take rather than a big goal to be completed at once.
“Maybe instead of I’m going to eat better, I’m going to eat five to seven fruits and veggies every day, I’m going to have more whole grains in my diet,” McGrath said. “Making it positive rather than I’m not going to eat as much sugar or I’m not going to eat junk food.”
One of the goals Cox has set for the New Year is to “declutter” her house of things her and her family do not need anymore. She said she decided on this because she was feeling overwhelmed with how much was in her house.
“I want to simplify my life,” Cox said. “So let’s get rid of this clutter and let someone else enjoy it since we are not using it.”
Sustaining a plan
Moeller said after New Year’s people are “really fired up” and motivated to start their New Year’s resolution. However, without a plan motivation can only go so far. Moeller said those who set goals in the New Year have to have a certain mindset to achieve it, especially four to six weeks into the New Year when challenges can start to arise.
“When that happens it can be defeating, almost so that it knocks people off,” Moeller said. “You get these little challenges thrown at you. If you don’t have the mindset to overcome those challenges motivation is not going to get you there. It goes deeper than motivation, it goes into actual mindset.”
The best way to follow through with a plan is to keep a written account of New Year’s resolutions in a viewable area like a refrigerator or by a bedside.
“Writing it out is very effective because it’s not the resolution that’s in your head—it’s written out,” McGrath said.
Michael Wentland, a financial adviser with APEXX Strategic Wealth Management, has three offices in Lake Delton, Adams/Friendship and north of Mauston. Wentland said the best way to stick with a New Year’s resolution is to keep a checklist and monitor it to keep you accountable. With financial New Year’s resolutions he said it’s best to keep a written budget and analyze what needs to be done on a financial basis like cutting expenses to save money to buy something or go on vacation to saving money for an emergency fund or paying down debt. He said it takes about one month to put together a detailed budget and adjust if needed.
“First, do an assessment as to what am I doing right now,” Wentland said. “Every week or month, or however you want to monitor yourself, look at your checklist. You set your goals and every week mark it off and come June analyze it—take a look at yourself and do a self-assessment.”
To help achieve her goals, Cox puts a mental note in her head and visualizes the best time of day to complete her goals. Cox said her plan consists of a block of time to complete each of her goals and managing her time with her other responsibilities in life like her family and her business.
One of the reasons New Year’s resolutions don’t last is because people can get overwhelmed, especially with the amount of information available on the internet on how to achieve it. Setting high expectations is also another problem when sticking to New Year’s resolutions. Lohman said it will take around 30 days of consistently doing a different task to form a habit.
“We are a now generation (where) we do not wait for anything,” Lohman said. “We have all of this stuff that is bombarding us all the time with instantaneous messages and we really struggle to see a goal that is not now.”
Janelle Brown, who has worked as an independent residential professional organizer serving the Madison, Mauston and Portage areas, said the key with any New Year’s resolution is to start small and to focus on one aspect at a time.
“Say you start with a room and in that room you break it down even further,” Brown said. “If it’s a bedroom, first organize a closet, the dresser… do that stuff and once you get everything done in that room go on to the next one.”
One of Cox’s goals for the New Year is to exercise more and she plans to use a computer app to help her achieve her goal. She said the app will give her a series of workouts for seven minutes and can add on workouts for an additional seven minutes.
“A lot of people if they think I’m going to do my four exercises for a half hour or an hour everyday sometimes they feel they don’t have that time,” Cox said. “I feel seven minutes is really easy to do and once you get warmed up and in that mode you say ‘I’m going to do another seven-minute one’ then you feel really good afterword.”
With her goal to declutter, instead of thinking about cleaning closets the whole month of January, Cox said she is thinking of it in smaller increments to achieve a larger goal.
“My goal is to take even a half-hour once a week and pick away at it in small little chunks,” Cox said.
Like with any goal, setbacks are common, but experts say to not give up and keep moving forward and adjust if needed.
“Just don’t hang up the shoes and wait until next year,” Moeller said.
For those who haven’t set a New Year’s resolution, or who want to modify it to fit a specific plan, it isn’t too late to analyze and adjust if needed.
Modifying doesn’t only have to be trying something different in a routine to get back on track, but also trying something new.
“Maybe it’s what might be a recipe that I’ve not tried or even just one food,” McGrath said. “One thing I promote is doing something different whether it’d be once a week or once a month.”
Find a community
Rather than trying to tackle a resolution by oneself, it’s best to find a community or an accountability partner to go through the process.
Douglas Jorenby, a professor of medicine at UW-Madison, said that quitting smoking cold turkey isn’t the best approach. Jorenby, who also is director of clinical services for UW-Madison’s Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, said out of 100 people who make a resolution in 2018 to quit smoking cold turkey, probably three will succeed by the end of the year.
With more intensive programs like counseling and a combination of medication, quit rates are around 20 percent to 30 percent, Jorenby said. People who have a New Year’s resolution to quit smoking should call the Wisconsin Tobacco Quitline and talk with a health care professional to come up with a plan to quit smoking. He also said counseling or a support group increases the chances of success.
“If people do a little bit of planning … we know that increases quit rates,” Jorenby said.
One support group is located at the Sauk Prairie Health Care as a part of the Smoking Cessation Program in partnership with the American Lung Association. The Breathe Easy Quit Smoking Class runs seven-week programs. The next session begins Jan. 8 and will last until Feb. 26.
Respiratory therapist Elaine Jones said for the first four weeks the classes prepare smokers to quit by providing education on what smoking does to the body and former smokers help prepare smokers for quitting by week four.
With other New Year’s resolutions, St. Clare Hospital Clinical Dietitian Jenni Lehr said it’s also helpful to have the support of other people to make it less stressful.
“Then you can try to be a good influence yourself and not just benefit you but the people around you,” Lehr said.
Other places to find a community for resolutions are the Reedsburg Public Library to learn a new hobby or craft or a gym like ShockBody Fitness or Anytime Fitness in Mauston.
“They feel like they are coming to meet a friend,” said Megan Strobel, club manager at Anytime Fitness in Mauston.
Moeller even has created his own New Year’s resolution to get organized with his personal life and with managing ShockBody Fitness in 2018. Even though it can be overwhelming, he is preparing himself by reading books on productivity, essentialism and organization and found a method that works for him. He said his wife, Amber, is his accountability partner.
“I feel being organized will give me hours back on the calendar that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” Moeller said. “My why is for balance (and) quality time.”