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Being realistic, focusing on new positive behaviors are keys to creating 2021 resolutions that will stick

It has been quite a year. While we open our eyes to the final day of 2020, one of the last things we might think of doing is making resolutions for 2021 – other than hoping it quietly passes by without much fanfare.

Or at least less than what 2020 offered: Australian wildfires, COVID-19, racial tension. We have experienced loss after loss, and because of this, maybe the thought of moving ahead is difficult for some. Making resolutions and keeping them might feel more challenging when so much weighs us down.

For many, however, a new year is a new start. What has consumed us this past year shouldn’t deter us from looking ahead. From setting goals – realistic ones – we can keep.

Why “realistic”?

Chloe Godward

Because about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail, and 60% of gym memberships initiated in January are never used, said Chloe Godward, a therapist in private practice with Arvon and Associates.

“I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I try to integrate positive habits into a long-term lifestyle. My commitment for 2021 is to continue restoring and advocating for South Florida coastal habits. More broadly, I will keep combating regional systemic societal problems such as climate change, government accountability, housing, and public transit.”

Andrew Ortazo, an environmentalist

“By setting a goal that indicates restriction, you are setting yourself up for failure,” she said. “People are setting goals that are not only restrictive and vague, but also unrealistic at times. With vague goals, individuals lose sight of success. Without success at close proximity, failure becomes a reality.

“As I tell my clients all year, ‘Recovery is not linear; there are ups and downs.’”

Life goals and/or resolutions are the same thing, she added. There will be days where you accomplish all the goals you set for the day, and days where you are overwhelmed and feel consumed.

“Don’t let these days deter you from the end goal,” Godward said. “Humans become discouraged by failures. Generally, humans can fixate on their failures but avoid recognizing their successes. This pattern causes us to give up on our resolutions; hence, why so many do so by February.”

By February, nearly half of people’s resolutions go out the window. Only 19% of people keep their resolutions at least two years after making them, according to an article in Inverse, a digital media company covering culture, technology and science.

People who create resolutions that add behaviors rather than erase them are more likely to maintain them for a year, according to the Inverse article. It’s a slight shift that tweaks how you phrase the resolution in the first place — changing “I will quit or avoid” to “I will start to.”

The twist can lead to meaningful outcomes, help people achieve their goals, and make behavior changes that last.

It may not be possible to transform your life overnight, but the study suggests habitual, additive commitments to your goals can result in big outcomes, according to Inverse.

“Setting goals is a task I enforce with clients,” Godward said. “The main way to do so is setting specific and trivial goals, creating an organized routine, and celebrating once you accomplish each step.”

For example, she encourages clients to create a specific schedule each day, including all daily tasks – waking up, brushing your teeth, eating, and any goals they would like to accomplish that day.

“Once they fulfill the task, they check it off the list,” she said. “Checking things off convinces the mind to believe it is succeeding. The internalization of failure reduces when tasks are being accomplished – even if they’re minute. No goal is too small.”

“My New Year’s resolution is to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. I know that getting good rest is critical. I plan on sticking to my resolution by sheer determination. I will remind myself how much better the next day will be if I have a good night's sleep. I really believe sleep is key to being one's best self. I think I may also buy the book, The Sleep Revolution, by Ariana Huffington, to provide inspiration and keep me on track.”

Amy Leaf Erwin, an author who wrote a children’s book centered around Key Biscayne

Not interested in resolutions? That is OK, Godward said.

“The pressure of bettering ourselves is exhausting,” she said. “Why start the year with this idea that we have not been doing enough and should do more? Try to remove the word ‘should’ from your daily vocabulary.

“2020 has been a difficult year and if a resolution is far from your scope of interests, listen to yourself without judgment.”

Still, New Year’s resolutions are wildly popular. Forty-four percent of Americans report being likely or very likely to make a New Year’s resolution for the coming year, according to a 2019 Marist Poll. But despite their prevalence, scientists don’t know much about how well they work, or how to make the process better.

KBCF Jane Morris.jpg

“I never make New Year’s resolutions ... but this year I am. My resolution for 2021 is to always wear my mask in public, social distance, and get my vaccine as soon as it is available. I do this for myself, my family, my co-workers, my friends, and all those I come in contact with, for as long as it takes.”

Jane Morris, Key Biscayne Community Foundation

Setting specific and positively worded goals is something that can help with success, Godward said. For example, saying you will eat two servings of vegetables a day, or that you’ll work out three times a week in the morning to get your heart moving. Or, that you’ll go to sleep at 10 p.m. every weeknight and attempt to receive eight hours of sleep.

“Find what works for you,” Godward said. “We are complex beings. A diet or routine that works for one will not work for another. Find eating, exercise, thinking and learning habits that fit your individuality.

“Do not allow societal expectations to determine how you choose to better yourself. Find a workout routine you feel comfortable with. Find a science-based diet that will feel doable to you.”

“Whenever we face a decision to make, deep down, our intuition knows what the best version of us would do,” he said. “If we could just bring ourselves to do that, in the moment, we’ve achieved BVIAS. All we’ve ever had is the moment. This particular resolution covers all other possible resolutions. It’s completely global, completely an umbrella. If we can do this, everything else will take care of itself.”

- Gentry Fry, a 1990 graduate of Coral Gables Senior High School, and who originated BVIAS – Best Version of the Integrated Authentic Self – said he wants to make BVIAS his New Year’s resolution.

As the rollercoaster of 2020 comes to a close, build in some reflection time to not only think about what you want to change, but what you are grateful for, according to the Inverse article, which added to then intentionally frame resolutions in a way that sets you up for sustainable success.

Godward agrees.

As an alternative to resolutions, she suggests that instead of starting the New Year with a laundry list of things you should accomplish, why not create a list of things to live by through the lens of gratitude?

“By changing the way you think, you will change the way you feel,” she said. “Mantras can be a powerful tool in accomplishing this. Create a list of mantras that you will carry in your heart through the New Year.

Examples of mantras:

- "I am present in the now"

- "Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn"

- "The body achieves what the mind believes"

- "Less is more"

- "I am a survivor.’”