How to Make New Year's Resolutions Stick

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How to Make New Year's Resolutions Stick
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It's time to set goals for the coming year, and a psychologist has some hints for helping you to make those changes last.

John Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, is one of the world's leading experts on how people change addictive behaviors. Over the last 30 years, he and his colleagues have studied people who successfully quit smoking, cut back or quit heavy drinking, lost weight or started exercising regularly— including those whose lasting change began with a resolution to start on January first. He outlined some of his strategies in his new book, Changeology and discussed how to make resolutions work.

What are some of the most important things you can do to make your New Year's resolutions stick?

First is believing that it can be done. There's a lot of cynicism surround[ing] New Year's resolutions and it's unwarranted. Our research indicates that somewhere between 40% to 46% of New Year's resolvers will be successful at six months. That's probably a bit higher than the proportion who actually [succeed] because calling people every couple weeks [the way we did for the research] tends to help and thereby increase success. Still, the success rate is much higher than most people presume it would be for a single attempt to change behavior.

The second key [to success] is being realistic. Many people confuse fantasy with reality. Resolutions are supposed to be specific and realistic and measurable. In the book we talk about the acronym SMART, which comes from business. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time sensitive.

So, let's say someone wants to cut down on drinking. First of all, is that a realistic goal for heavy drinkers?

This year, about 2% of resolvers [who were surveyed] picked that one and about 90% of people who have curbed their problem drinking have done so on their own. We make the distinction between hardcore addictions on one hand and more problematic drinking on the other. For problematic drinking, 90% who have done so have done so on their own, so sure, that's realistic.

So why do we think that everyone needs professional help or at least need to attend a support group?

First, people who change on their own, we call them self-changers, are not usually getting any media attention. But 90% of people who stopped smoking did it on their own and the same thing is true with problem drinking, [through] either abstinence or moderation. We don't want to mislead people about hard core alcoholics but even some of them do self-change.



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