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The Psychology Behind New Year's Resolutions And Why We Can't Keep Them

So, it's 2016. Have you lost that weight you said you would on January 1? Started that exercise program? Stopped smoking?

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If you haven't, relax. You're not alone. While about half of Americans make New Year's resolutions, only about eight percent keep them an entire year.

Resolutions give us a chance to reinvent ourselves -- a new year, a new and improved self. The possibilities lie before us, shining, and often that glow is so bright we miss the pitfalls.

We want to start again

The new year gives us the chance to toss out everything that didn't work during the past year, all those bad habits that held us back from being the best we could be, and start from square one. George Eliot said, "It's never too late to be what you might have been," and that feeling energizes us each time January 1 rolls around.

We want to be better people

Psychologists say humans seem to have an innate desire to improve. New Year's Day gives us a target date to begin that improvement.

It's a tradition

Okay, this is where things can get sticky. Sometimes we think we should make resolutions just because we've always made resolutions -- and because our parents and grandparents made resolutions on New Year's Day. But the belief that we must make resolutions at the new year can also work against our keeping them.

Why we fail

Many things lie in wait to trip us up on keeping our resolutions. Sure, we want to lose that extra fill-in-the-blank amount of weight we've been lugging around, but that probably means making regular visits to the gym (ugh, especially when it's cold, rainy, icy, and gray) and fewer stops at our favorite restaurant. Yes, we need to save more and spend less -- which we'll do right after we buy that bright red mountain bike (or cashmere sweater or diamond bracelet) we've wanted for so long. Here are a few of our top stumbling blocks:

We're not ready. Sometimes we know we should change, but the motivation isn't there. If you still fit those favorite jeans (even though you may have to suck in your breath to zip them), then losing weight isn't as urgent as if you've just split the seams.


We have false hope. You may have told yourself you'll work out for an hour a day every day for as long as it takes to get in better shape, but most of us know that resolution is doomed to failure. It's unrealistic, and we know deep in our hearts we can't keep it.

Our life doesn't change dramatically. Maybe you have lost the weight or conquered the gym or cut back on the spending ... but where's the payoff? Your life still looks pretty much the same, despite your hard work.

Our goals are too vague. We resolve to exercise more, but we don't let our brains know what that really means. Make sure you (and your brain) know what's involved in "exercising more."

Tips to make you a better resolution keeper

Do something every day, no matter how small. Figure out one simple step to reach your goal today. If you've resolved to spend less, then pack your lunch instead of picking up takeout. Need to exercise more? Remind yourself to use the stairs.

Make one resolution, and keep it specific. What's most important to you right now? Maybe you're really looking forward to a vacation at the beach this summer. If that's the case, resolve to save a certain amount of money by a certain date. You can even break that goal down into weekly and daily savings goals. That way you not only reach your goal, but you see progress along the way -- and that can kick up your motivation.

Reward yourself for progress. Focus on the good. Maybe you resolved to lose 10 pounds in a month, but you only lost five. You still made progress toward your goal, so give yourself credit for the win. That will make it easier to do better next month.

Plan ahead. No matter what your resolution, you'll have to change some of your behaviors and some of your thinking to reach it. Know what your tradeoffs will be and find ways to make them as painless as possible. Be realistic about the time and money you can invest to make your resolution stick.

Do it because you want to. Keeping resolutions isn't for the faint-hearted, and there's a huge difference between doing something because you believe in it and doing something because you think you should -- or because everyone else is doing it.

Get support. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Exercise -- even just a daily walk -- can be more fun when you do it with a friend. If your goal is to lose weight or quit smoking, a friend's support can be invaluable.

Be realistic. Losing 50 pounds in a week is unrealistic. Losing five pounds in a month is doable. Take a hard look at your resolutions and pare back any unrealistic ones. That gives you a better chance at success and more motivation to make and keep future resolutions.

It's never too late to make a resolution, and you don't need to wait for New Year's Day to begin changing your life. Just give it some thought, break it down into achievable goals, and then go for the dream.

Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who is trying to be healthier this year. She currently writes for AEDs Today, where aeds are for sale including models like Lifepak 1000 and Lifepak 15.

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