How to make better resolutions

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Carol Sorgen

This time of year, many people reflect on ways to improve their lives. The act of making a New Year’s resolution helped Nancy Menefee Jackson put her finances in order. Psychologists say resolutions with specific goals — and ways to monitor progress — are more likely to be kept.
Photo by Christopher Myers

Several years ago, Nancy Menefee Jackson made a New Year’s resolution to “get a handle” on her family’s finances.

“It turned out to be a shock,” said the 57-year-old communications manager who lives in Perry Hall. “We owe THAT much?”

That sobering realization, however, led Jackson and her husband to start following a budget, significantly pay down their debt, and become savvier about their financial situation.

The success of that resolution led to yet another one. No more “time-stacking.” That is, “No more running from one event to another to another,” Jackson said. “If we have three things on one day, choose one. I can’t always manage it, but it has made my life much saner.”

Phyllis Lansing is also a fan of making New Year’s resolutions. Every New Year’s Eve, Lansing and an informal group of other residents at the Charlestown retirement community meet to write down their resolutions. They then follow up with each other to see if they were able to accomplish them.

“There usually are quite a few resolutions to lose so many pounds, exercise more, read more books, etc.,” said Lansing, 81. Last New Year’s Eve, she took a look at her largest closet and made a resolution to reorganize it.

“New Year’s Day I had a burst of energy and tackled that closet,” she said. “By evening it was done, and so was I, but I had met one of my resolutions! Maybe it is a good idea to include a resolution that is doable in a day. It felt so good.”

Lansing has been more consistent about making resolutions since she has been part of the group at Charlestown. “We report our successes, and find understanding and support for the ones we don’t accomplish,” she said.

Need accountability, support

Lansing and her friends have the right idea about making successful resolutions, according to Steve Siebold, author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class, who also works with Fortune 500 management teams, entrepreneurs, athletes and other achievers in reaching their goals.

“One of the biggest problems with keeping a resolution is that most people have no means of accountability or a support system in place,” he said. 

“Go after your goals with a partner who really makes you push yourself. Even better, find someone who has already achieved what you are setting out after and have them coach you.”

New York advice columnist April Masini (“Ask April”) believes that making New Year’s resolutions is a great way to give structure to our lives.

“It’s so easy to let life slip by and live in the day-to-day flow,” she said. “By making a New Year’s resolution, you give yourself the opportunity to slow down and look at what you’ve done and where you are — and where you want to be.

“Making a resolution is the way you can put yourself back on track, or on track for a new adventure or goal. You can resolve to finish a degree, have a better relationship with a neighbor or a daughter-in-law, or [as Phyllis Lansing did] clean out a closet.”

Some eschew resolutions

Not everyone is a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Baltimore City resident Andrew Der said, “I never make them. If they are needed, then there is no reason to start at [any particular] moment on the calendar.” Or, as fellow Baltimore City resident Laura Dorn Foxworth said, “There is no time like the present.”

“Resolutions aren’t for everyone,” Masini agrees, “but if you find you don’t make them because you keep breaking them, reconsider the challenge you’ve been giving yourself in the resolution, and consider making more appropriate ones.”

She suggests, for example, that losing 25 pounds is too big a challenge for many people. “But eating one salad a day (or even a week) is a better resolution, because it takes the focus off the scale, and puts it on the farmer’s market,” said Masini.

If you’re intent on making and keeping resolutions, Michael Kitchens, associate professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., offers these suggestions:

“Set a specific goal, such as, ‘I want to lose X number of pounds by Y date.’ People who set high goals tend to accomplish more, but this does not mean that your goals should be unrealistic,” said Kitchens. “Set a goal that is challenging but manageable for you.”

Kitchens added that people are more successful when they monitor their progress. If your resolution is to lose weight, check your weight regularly. If it’s to save money, write down where you’ve spent your money.

“Monitoring those few, challenging goals will dramatically improve your success rate,” he said.

Resolutions change with age

As we get older, our resolutions often change — and so they should, according to Jacke Schroeder, a licensed clinical social worker and director of Stop Abuse of Elders (SAFE).

“Younger people often have resolutions to become more mentally or physically fit,” said Schroeder. “But as we get older, our resolutions may shift to doing a life review (e.g., what will I do after retirement?), resolving to get your paperwork in order, or healing your heart from difficult relationships or life experiences.”

Making resolutions in later years also can mean taking stock of competencies and successes, and building on those, said Schroeder.

“You can resolve to do more of whatever it is you’re good at and enjoy, or you might resolve to try something that you’ve always been interested in but never had the time to pursue.”

“Resolutions are not about beating ourselves up,” she said, “but about what is and what can be.”