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To resolve, or not to resolve? That’s THE New Year’s question, so we asked a psychologist

To resolve or not to resolve
Photo credit: cn0ra/Getty Images

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the lead-up to the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31 must be a veritable five-lane highway. Will you make any New Year’s resolutions?

As Father Time counts down to the ball drop and champagne is put on ice, many reevaluate their experiences throughout the past 12 months and begin to write a list of intentions that they fully expect to keep. At least until February.

The long list of broken promises that people make annually could rival any CVS receipt. It is a wonder that most even bother to go through the charade at all.

While it sounds good in theory, putting a New Year’s resolution into effect can be harder than just cutting up magazines for a vision board. Is it worth it to constantly make deals with yourself that you won’t be able to keep? Or is it better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all?

To resolve, or not to resolve? That is the question.

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An expert opinion

Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D., a Los Angeles health psychologist, believes that resolutions can often be pointless. “They tend to generate anxiety, negative anticipation and bad behavioral blowouts prior to Jan. 1,” she explained.

This mentality may trip you up if you plan to cut back on happy hour martinis or go sans carbs once January begins. With a looming target date, the mind may key into the idea that you will soon be depriving yourself — that’s when the bingeing begins.

“Thoughts of loss and deprivation come in quickly,” said Kubacky. When your brain recognizes this fear of having to actually make a change in your life, it can cause you to sabotage yourself before you have even begun. Kubacky added, “That’s when you decide to eat/drink/smoke/whatever as much as humanly possible before your deadline.”

Although most people can find it demoralizing to set a goal and not be able to keep it, there is an upside to resolutions for certain kinds of people. If you are the type who runs a tight ship, you may have an advantage over those who tend to go with the flow.

“People who not only thrive on structure but are also good at setting up the systems to support and encourage change may actually do well with New Year’s resolutions,” according to Kubacky.

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However, she adds that while hard deadlines can work for type A personalities, they may not work for others. “People who tend to be more fluid, organic, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants types are much less likely to find success,” she noted.

If you are going to forge ahead and make plans to become a better you in 2019, there are some helpful ways to keep resolutions.

Do it for yourself

Kubacky suggests that you need to motivate yourself because external factors often won’t keep you on track.

If you decide you are going to stop smoking to placate a significant other, you probably won’t be able to break the habit. That’s because it isn’t coming from a personal desire to quit.

Set a time frame

It is easier to accomplish the goals you set if you have a deadline. This keeps you on track.

If you are trying to learn a language before a trip, slim down before an event or drink more water so your skin glows for a photo session, a cut-off day can help you monitor your progress.

Small incremental signs of achievement can help to encourage you when you are working toward a certain date.

Be specific

If you don’t know exactly what you are aiming for or why you are doing it, you are likely destined to fail.

Kubacky gives an example of how to correct your planning phase, though. Don’t say, “I want to lose some weight.” Instead, say, “I want to lose 12 pounds by April 1, in order to improve my appearance, my cholesterol and my fasting glucose numbers.”

Once you know the “what” and the “why,” then you need to plan out how.

Giving yourself a detailed outline of how to make it happen is essential. Kubacky suggests giving yourself a very specific plan — which you can even write down before you start.

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One way to map out a plan for weight loss? Tell yourself, “I plan to do this by exercising for 30 minutes a day, seven days a week, and reducing my calories by 250 calories a day, seven days a week. I will track this on my phone, and I will also get an accountability buddy for moments when I’m feeling weak.”

By following these tips, your resolution roller-coaster can turn into a recipe for success. The new year is a chance to start anew, and you can keep reasonable resolutions. It is just a matter of making a choice and committing.

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