5 questions to ask yourself before making a New Year's resolution

The new year is a time for a fresh start so make it count.

ByABC News
December 28, 2017, 2:51 PM

— -- Santa Claus makes a list each Christmas. Experts say if you want to keep your New Year’s resolution after Jan. 2, you should follow Santa’s lead.

“With anything that we do in life, it’s a good idea to have things written down that we can track over time,” said Dr. Marcelo Campos, a primary care doctor at Harvard Vanguard and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. “It’s almost like a commitment that you have toward what you want to achieve.”

Campos and other experts stress the importance of spending the remaining few days before the calendar turns to 2018 planning what you want to accomplish in the new year.

PHOTO:A horn blower is seen here in this undated stock photo.
A horn blower is seen here in this undated stock photo.

Simply making a New Year’s resolution is a step toward success, according to research conducted by Dr. John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton and the author of “Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions.”

Norcross’ research found that people are 10 times more likely to make a change by declaring a New Year’s resolution compared to “non-resolvers.”

He also found that, contrary to public opinion, not all New Year’s resolutions are destined for failure, with nearly 44 percent of people finding success six months into the new year.

How do you make it into that 44 percent who find success? Campos said taking time to answer five questions before declaring your New Year’s resolution can help keep you on track through the next year.

Read below for Campos’ five questions, along with New Year’s resolution advice from Campos and other experts.

1. What is your 'why'?

Experts say to look deep inside yourself to find the change that you really want to make in the new year.

"The idea is to try to find something that is really important to you and that motivates you and that you really want to change, not because you have to change," Campos said. "We all know that we have to move and to exercise, so why you want to exercise and what you want to achieve with that, that’s the better question."

Rebecca Scritchfield, a dietitian and the author of "Body Kindness," said that when making a New Year's resolution about health, finding your "why" includes getting rid of guilt leftover from the holiday season.

PHOTO: Overhead view of a candlelight table with Christmas desserts in this undated stock photo.
Overhead view of a candlelight table with Christmas desserts in this undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Caiaimage/Getty Images

"We likely take a break from exercise and we eat differently and our inner fear or critic can increase," she said. "The shift comes from seeing that this is not about fear."

She continued, "Giving yourself a chance to have some time off for the holidays and ease back into the new year is when you’re going to hit a resolution plan that is going to stick and will actually be fueled by joy instead of shame."

2. What are your measurable goals?

A goal to just lose weight or save money is not specific enough to keep you on track, according to Campos.

"It’s very important for you to be specific and have goals that you can measure and achieve in a short period of time," he said. "Ideally the goal setting is a matter of days or weeks to see if it’s really feasible for you or if you do have to adjust those goals."

Staying on track to reach your goals also means being flexible with them, Campos said, noting that "life changes all the time and you have to adapt."

Scritchfield suggests setting yourself up for success by asking yourself what the least amount of effort is that you can give and still succeed.

"It may be just taking the dog on a 10-minute walk," she said. "Doing that and seeing it as a success is likely going to lead to, ‘I can go to the gym.’"

PHOTO: A woman works out in this undated stock photo.
A woman works out in this undated stock photo.

Another strategy is instead of punishing yourself with a push, turn it into what Scritchfield calls a "feel-good challenge."

"Choose something that feels like a stretch but you also feel interested in," she said. "When you have those two ingredients, then it’s not driven by fear or shame."

"Reframe 'I need a push' to a challenge and don't judge it as a failure. Just keep trying," she said.

3. What is your plan?

It is better to start your New Year's resolution in the middle or even the end of January than to rush into it on Jan. 1 without a plan, according to Sherry Blair, founder of the Sherry Blair Institute for Inspirational Change.

"Before you go to the action stage, there’s a preparation phase," said Blair, also an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Southern California. "Sit down, and think about your plan for making it happen, for addressing your barriers, for adjusting if you get off track."

She continued, "Write down what you need to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to meet your goal."

Blair recommends calling it your business plan and thinking of yourself as a CEO who can "change, excel and optimize."

"You’re the leader of your life," she said. "Treat your resolution as a well thought-out business plan, the business of life."

4. Who will be your support?

Blair calls the people who surround you in your quest for change your "positivity tribe" who can help pick you up when you fall and cheer on your successes.

Going public with your New Year's resolution -- whether to friends and family or online -- can hold you accountable and be a source of support, according to Campos.

"Some studies show that behavior may be contagious so using the power of the community to support you is something that can have long-term benefits," he said. "Change is often a community task."

Joining groups of people with similar goals can also be beneficial, Campos said, in that it allows you to learn from one another.

5. How will you celebrate success?

Celebrating victories related to your New Year's resolution is as simple as listening to the voice in your head, both Scritchfield and Campos noted.

"It doesn’t need to be a celebration where you’re pampering yourself," Campos said. "It’s really the feelings that you have toward what you just did so pause, think, really feel and let all those feelings sink in."

He continued, "You don’t need much time. Think about the good benefits you just accomplished. If you do have those feelings a couple of times a day for 10 or 20 seconds, it can make a big difference over time."

Scritchfield calls it listening to your "caregiver voice." She said using a nonjudgmental voice when you feel like you've failed is just as beneficial.

"You can be disappointed that you missed a goal but responding the way a caregiver would helps you reset your intention as opposed to making you feel unnecessary guilt," she said. "Be consistent with the 'I want to be good to myself' voice no matter what."

Most importantly, according to all three experts, is recognizing that achieving any kind of goal, New Year's resolutions included, is a journey.

"With any kind of change, you’re really trying to learn a new habit," Campos said. "You don’t learn a new language or learn how to walk in a few days, it takes several months or years.

"The habits fall into the same category," he said. "It takes time. It takes commitment and you have to celebrate your victories."

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