5 Tips to Make Your 2020 Resolutions Stick

Dr. Gail Saltz, psychoanalyst at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, on how to follow through on your New Year’s goals.

Bulletin board with sticky note reminders
Bulletin board with sticky note reminders

Are you thinking about making a few New Year’s resolutions, but doubting you’ll keep them? You’re not alone. Thirty-one percent of people who made resolutions last year didn’t stick to any of them, according to a New Year’s study.

Don’t give up. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, get in better shape, stay in better touch with family and friends, quit smoking or drinking, or have another goal in mind, there are simple strategies you can adopt to stick with your plan.

Health Matters spoke with Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychoanalyst and assistant attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, to get some advice on how to stay the course.

“It is very difficult to make real change, and it requires true desire to do so and then the willpower to stick with it,” says Dr. Saltz. She adds it also takes “resilience to fall down and get back up again, and sometimes an objective outside party to see your blind spots thwarting your efforts at change.”

Here, Dr. Saltz gives five tips for making resolutions — and keeping them.

1. Own up to what needs to be changed.
You can’t make change if you can’t acknowledge you need it. We are too hung up on being good versus bad — and no one wants to be bad, so they keep telling themselves they don’t really need to change in the first place. Instead of bad, think human. We all have our battles, and you need to identify yours in order to make a plan and stick with it.

Portrait of Dr. Gail Saltz

Dr. Gail Saltz

2. Write out your goals and corresponding action plan in weekly parts.
If you break it into bite-sized pieces, it will be less daunting and more manageable. This avoids the panic that makes you throw in the towel. People have a tendency — once they stumble — to say “forget it” and quit. But if the bigger task is broken down into pieces, then it appears more doable, and a stumble in one part also seems more easily correctable.

3. Start with a journal entry of WHY?
Making conscious statements as to why you overeat, don’t see the doctor, or don’t exercise can be extremely enlightening and help you move forward. Maybe it’s because you don’t want to do better than your mother, who is very overweight? Maybe it’s because you hate to sweat because it disgusts you? Or maybe it’s because you have always believed you are not an athlete since you stunk in gym class? Re-evaluate in your journal how much these thoughts still make sense for the person you are today and how you might then amend these mental stories, which can free you to move forward and set and achieve the goal you really want.

4. Make up incentives.
As humans, we really respond to the old concept of a “carrot on the stick.” In other words: positive reinforcement. Make up your own positive reinforcement by telling yourself when you lose X number of pounds and keep them off for three months, then you will treat yourself to a new top. Or, when you have exercised regularly for a month, then you will have earned that new exercise outfit or gear. You provide your own positive feedback.

5. Tell someone else.
It’s easier to cheat on yourself than on someone else! Tell someone who will be around you as you pursue your goal and plan — just their presence will help you stay on track.

Gail Saltz, M.D., is a psychoanalyst and assistant attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Saltz is a media commentator and the author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius (Flatiron Books, 2017).

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