New Year’s resolutions — success or failure is in the planning says Winnipeg clinical psychologist

Getting fit or working out more is often included in New Year's resolutions. Simon Jaynes / Global News

It is a common practice for many people to make New Year’s resolutions. It is also common for those resolutions to fail.

Making resolutions and changes for the New Year were the topic of discussion when registered clinical psychologist Dr. Jo Ann Unger spoke on 680 CJOB.

LISTEN: Dr. Jo Ann Unger of Clinic Psychology Manitoba with Brett Megarry as they discuss the idea of Making Resolutions and Changes for the New Year.

Unger said New Year’s is a time when people take stock. It can be useful for discussion; resolutions are neither a good or bad idea, but making poor choices for change will almost certainly fail and could have harmful effects long term.

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If we try to do something our family or friends say we should, or something society has put up as a good thing to do, we aren’t as likely to succeed. “Our internal motivation really isn’t there to make the change.”

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Unger added that if we set a resolution and fail at it, it impedes our ability to make change in the future. Repeated failure damages our self esteem and our confidence. Just making a resolution just because it is a new year is not a good enough reason.

“It is really important, if we are going to make change, to think about why we are doing it, if we really want to do it and to make specific plans about how to do it,” Unger said.

You need to think about a number of ways to make change in order to be successful. Take small steps. What is an area of your life you feel motivated to change? Breakdown the path toward a goal into micro-steps that are realistic and manageable.

“And remember that change takes effort, sometimes a lot of effort”. Unger said the amount of effort required is often underestimated.

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If you really want to make a resolution, ask yourself this question: ‘What can I realistically do and succeed’. And then, you need two things:  internal motivation and a plan for success. Unger said success perpetuates change. You feel good about yourself, you feel confident.

People have a habit of setting the bar too high. Set a realistic goal. Setting goals that are too difficult to achieve simply sets you up for failure.

“Making a change that is too big is hard to sustain,” Unger said.

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If your goal is to exercise, be sure to find something that you enjoy, something that you will actually do. It won’t work if your resolution is to go from being a couch potato to working out five days a week.  Start with one day a week and build from there. Five days a week would be more of a long-term goal.

Problem solve what the biggest obstacles will be and create a plan to work around them. Be honest with yourself and take steps to change your behaviour rather than feelings. Actions are easier to change than emotions.

Change should be toward something we want rather than away from something we don’t want. Don’t get stuck beating yourself up. Make change based on self-compassion rather than self-dislike.

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“A sense of self-caring is a much healthier place to make change from than trying to beat myself into whatever change I want to do,” Unger said.

Start with small goals and small steps. Each success can lead to additional steps and additional successes.

Finally, Unger said, change can happen at any time of the year — it doesn’t have to be New Year’s.

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