As the New Year begins, so does the annual ritual of resolving to do better…to be better in 2011.
The reality, however, is that most resolutions – 54 percent according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology – are forsaken within six months of New Year's Day.
While this statistic may sound discouraging, local family therapist Michael Daly offers some practical advice on how individuals and families can make resolutions that will last throughout the New Year and beyond.
Daly offers the acronym S.T.A.M.P. – Specific; Timed; Achievable; Measurable; Positive – to help New Year's resolvers recall attributes of goals that are more likely to be kept long-term.
Be Realistic, Map Out A Plan
Daly says that one key reason resolutions fail is that the goals are not realistic. "Keep the list short," Daly states, adding that he advises most clients – especially children – to focus on one objective.
"Be realistic about the goal," says Daly. "Think of how you are going to accomplish this."
Resolutions need specific timing and measures of success built into them in order to be maintained, according to Daly. "The plan should be clearly mapped out," Daly explains, "and it should include achievable, attainable, realistic steps."
Along with a detailed action plan, Daly says it is helpful to let other people know about resolutions. "The more people who know, the more you will be held accountable," states Daly.
Daly encourages families to share their New Year's goals with friends, as well. He says, "Letting others know puts positive pressure on the family."
Obtain Family Buy-In For Resolution
As families consider the task of setting a family resolution, Daly recommends that setting the goal should be a group activity, a family conversation during which parents explain the importance of the resolution to the kids.
"Parents must believe in and value the goal for the family," Daly said. "They need to convey 'this is very important' to the children."
In addition, Daly says successful family resolutions are those that achieve buy-in from each family member. "Siblings can provide positive pressure for each other. If reluctant siblings see other siblings participating, they might decide that they want to be part of the plan, too," explains Daly.
Parents also should plan to spur achievement of the goal by providing structure and consistency.
"Kids will look for holes in the plan; which is why parents need to persevere," Daly says. "Build rewards into the program and do it all with love and respect for one another."
If kids want to make their own resolutions, Daly says simplicity is the name of the game. He advises parents to help kids set one resolution – one specific goal. "Make it really simple," Daly recommends. He suggests a specific success at school or one chore as examples.
Daly says another key to achieving resolution success is making sure there are rewards built into the goal.
He offers as an example the Weight Watchers program, which offers bonus points for meeting weight loss goals.
"Plan a regular pat on the back for yourself for following through," Daly says. "Have a reward and be able to celebrate what you are accomplishing."
Daly adds, "Success is all about charting your progress, staying positive, not giving up and sticking to it. Don't worry if you lose some steam…we're all imperfect. Just continue and get back on track."
Daly notes research indicates that it takes 21 days to break a habit, six months to make the change part of one's personality, and, if maintained after six months, the change is usually permanent.
"When you've achieved your goal, it builds momentum," Daly states. "A successful resolution can turn into bigger things. It elevates self esteem and boosts confidence."
As to the timing of individual or family resolution making, Daly explains, "It's the most drab time of year…resolutions are a good way to keep the positive pulse of the holidays going. Setting goals for the New Year is a nice way to renew, but anyone can do this at any time of year."
Michael Daly, LCPC, CADC, is the lead psychotherapist in private practice at the Institute of Motivational Development, where he conducts family and individual counseling at his offices in Libertyville and Lombard, Ill. Daly specializes in parenting strategies; academic underachievement; anxiety; depression; marital and family issues; addictions; as well as grief and trauma, from his extensive hospice experience.