CSU offers tips for creating — and keeping — New Year’s resolutions

Note to Reporters: The following column was written by Stephanie Seng, director of CSU’s Center for Family and Couple Therapy.

January marks a time of new beginnings. Setting New Year’s resolutions can be a way to start fresh, break old habits or accomplish new goals. Recently this tradition has come under fire, with some experts suggesting that setting resolutions sets us up for failure and should be avoided. However, with a few simple strategies, New Year’s resolutions can effectively help us reach our goals in the coming year. Here are some tips.

1. Be realistic. Set goals that are attainable and choose a realistic time frame. Don’t set yourself up for failure! If your resolution is to run your first marathon in under 2 hours, you likely won’t succeed. A more attainable goal (assuming you’ve already been running) would be to simply finish your first marathon.

2. Be purposeful in your goal setting. The most popular resolutions tend to be around exercise and weight loss. If those are goals you truly care about, then go for it. But if you’ve set those goals for the last five years and haven’t reached them, ask yourself, “Why?” Are there barriers in your way, or are these goals actually not very important to you at this time?

3. Set priorities. Choose a small number of accomplishments that are the most important to you. Even simple goals can be thwarted when we attempt to accomplish too many. You can spread your resolutions over time. When one resolution is accomplished, set another one.

4. Create a plan. Break your resolution into small steps. Set dates and times by which you intend to accomplish each step. Connect these steps directly to behaviors. Try setting goals that extend your current behavior — if you already run twice a week and want to bump it up, you could break down your goal as follows:
– Week 1: Run 20 minutes Monday, Wednesday and Friday
– Week 2: Run 20 minutes Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday
– Week 3: Run 30 minutes Monday, Wednesday and Friday
– Week 4: Run 30 minutes Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday

5. Build in rewards and incentives along the way. If your goal is to work out more, then reward yourself with a new pair of workout clothes after five trips to the gym. Trying to eat healthier? Treat yourself by taking a cooking lesson after two weeks of healthy eating.

6. Expect imperfection and be flexible in your thinking. One of the biggest reasons we abandon resolutions is that we have a tendency to give up after one misstep. Allow yourself to make mistakes and instead of giving up, regroup and try again. If you find your plan isn’t working, evaluate what part isn’t working and change it rather than abort it.

7. Engage your willpower. In a feature from Good Housekeeping magazine, Sarah Mahoney explains, "Self-restraint is a rational desire, which means it lives in the front of the brain. Pleasure resides in the brain’s most primitive part that rewards us with a rush when we give into anything we want, even when the more evolved part of our brain tells us we’ll quickly regret it." Dr. Marvin D. Seppala, M.D., compares willpower to a muscle. The more we use it, the stronger it gets. Some ways Mahoney suggests to improve willpower include:
– Get happy. Research shows that when you are in a good mood, willpower increases.
– Be nice. Studies also indicate that our willpower improves when we show kindness to others.
– Balance your blood sugar. When our blood sugar gets off track it can affect our mood and our motivation.
– Write down your goals. People who put their goals on paper, post them where they can see them often, and share them with others increase their willpower to accomplish those goals.

8. Give yourself credit for the things you do well. Take time, even before you write this year’s resolutions, to write down everything you accomplished during 2015. Did you pass all your classes? Take a special family trip? Get through a difficult life experience? Did you say "no" to something that was weighing you down? Writing down what you are proud of will force you to recognize the strengths you do have and help you figure out how to utilize those strengths to reach your new goals.

9. Get a buddy. You’ll likely be more successful if you have someone else holding you accountable, and you’ll enjoy the journey even more.

For more tips, visit the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board.

Stephanie Seng is director of the Center for Family and Couple Therapy, part of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in the Colorado State University Department of Human Development and Family Studies. CSU’s Center for Family and Couple Therapy provides high-quality therapy services to families, couples, individuals, adolescents and children. The CFCT offers services to all members of the Larimer County community, as well as to students, faculty and staff on campus.