New Year's Resolutions That Survive the Test of Time

With 2010 days away, the time for bizarre resolutions and schemes for self-improvement is here.

But even the most well-intended resolutions tend to fall to pieces soon after the ball drops.

Niall O'Dowd of New York City resolved to lose 30 pounds one year but fell off the exercise bike the first day in and fractured his leg. "No more weight loss," O'Dowd told ABCNews.com. "Try gaining another 15 [pounds]."

About 40 percent to 45 percent of Americans make resolutions each New Year's, says John Norcross, distinguished professor of clinical psychology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

But, according to his research, less than half of the pledges pan out.

So what is it about the first of January that makes us strive to reinvent ourselves, year after year?

The tradition began with ancient Romans, says Norcross, who has studied behavioral change at New Year's for 30 years. They would "make promises of good conduct to Janus, the two-faced deity who looked both backward and forward" and presided over beginnings and endings.

Today, resolutions still include promises of good behavior, he notes, with pledges to eat healthier, exercise more and spend less money topping the charts again and again.

Whether the yearly resolutions actually result in a better you is a question for experts on behavioral change, motivation and relationship growth.

Why Wait for Auld Lang Syne?

"It's always a good time to start" changing for the better, says Gretchen Rubin, blogger and author of "The Happiness Project," pointing out that people enjoy the enhanced feeling of a fresh start that comes with starting a new year.

Norcross says, "Virtually all civilizations and religions have opportunities to begin anew, this happens to be [America's]. Here's a secular chance for an entire do-over."

The built-in social support of the practice is also important, he notes, considering people around you are making similar resolutions.

How to Make It Stick

But waiting until you're "clinking champagne glasses" to come up with a resolution is liable to get you nowhere, Norcross says.

When done on a lark and not in the name of real self-improvement, the holiday can become nothing more than "lip service," Rubin says.

Blogger Rubin says, "People use a resolution to pretend like they are making a change when they're actually using it to evade making change."

As for the key ingredients to a resolution that will last after the post-New Year's hangover, Norcross studied people who, come December, had decided to make a change in their lives and tracked the success -- or failure -- of their resolutions for six months.

He found that those who "made a public commitment instead of a private decision to change" before New Year's and were "genuinely confident that they could keep their resolution despite a few [inevitable] slips" were much more likely to succeed in the long run.

Also, committing to and planning for a resolution ahead of time was essential. It made resolvers better prepared to put things into action.

Early in the year, building in a healthy substitute for the bad behavior and arranging the environment to remove temptation were the key strategies of successful resolvers, Norcross found.

The right attitude was also important: Those who rewarded their successes and avoided self-blame for slipups had resolutions with more staying power.

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