A few modifications may make New Year’s resolutions easier to keep.

It’s a tradition that is nearly as certain as the New Year itself.

When the calendar flips from December to January, many of us look at the new year as a fresh start—a time to change those things we didn’t like about the previous year and look forward with optimism.

That change—at least in the early days of the new year—often comes in the form of New Year’s resolutions, those pledges we make to pick up good habits and drop bad ones with the overall goal of becoming a better person.

And they work! Well, for a month or so, anyway. Whatever improvements we resolve to make in January seem to have fallen by the wayside come spring, and aren’t thought of again until…you guessed it, December, when the cycle begins anew.

But some people avoid the cycle altogether, knowing themselves well enough to know the outcome in advance.

“I do not make New Year’s resolutions primarily because I would likely not follow up as I should,” said Powell resident Ron Smith.

Ostrander residents Randy and Judy Martz also found that following up on their New Year’s resolutions was temporary.

“We would maybe work on our resolutions for three or four weeks, if that,” Randy said. “Probably
the last time we made resolutions was 40 or more years ago, for both of us.”

Delaware resident Matt Meier said he’s in the same boat.

“I have tried to make some resolutions in the past. I found that I would not keep them,” he said. “I didn’t have the self-motivation to do so, so I gave up making resolutions.”

Not surprisingly, they aren’t alone. According to an article in Psychology Today, it’s estimated that less than 10 percent of New Year’s resolutions are actually achieved. And as we get older and more set in our ways, the idea of changing behaviors and routines becomes even more challenging. But for those who have a resolution to actually keep their resolutions, it can be done with the right mindset and the right goals.

If your resolutions typically cover such life improvements as eating healthier, quitting smoking, exercising more frequently, or drinking less, the Psychology Today article states that you want to
either change existing habits or create new ones.

Habits are automatic, conditioned responses. You have already created literally hundreds of habits that you have now, and you don’t even remember how they got started, so creating habits can’t be that hard or you wouldn’t have so many of them.

Successfully creating a new habit involves following three small steps:

  1. Pick a small action. Having an overly broad goal, such as “exercise more” or “eat healthier,” is a primary reason why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. When you focus on smaller, more achievable actions, “exercise more” becomes   “take the stairs instead of the elevator at work” or “park farther away from the store and walk,” as opposed to, say, “run a marathon sometime this year.” In the same vein, “eat healthier” becomes “have a fruit smoothie for breakfast every morning” or “eat carrot sticks or an apple with lunch.”
  2. Attach the new action to a previous habit. If your previous habit is to take an after-dinner walk three times a week, your new action may be to “increase the length of the walk by 10 minutes.” So when you get ready to take your walk, per your old habit, you become conditioned to add 10 minutes to the walk, and the longer walk soon becomes habit.
  3. Make the new action easy for the first week, or longer. Establishing a conditioned response means you need to practice the new habit from the existing stimulus from three to seven times before it will “stick” on its own. Referring to the previous examples, you may need to leave a note by your walking shoes that reads “walk for 40 minutes today,” or put all of your smoothie ingredients together in one place in your fridge for easy access.

An AgingOptions article states that you also shouldn’t try to cram all of your habit changes into the month of January. The self-improvement part of New Year’s resolutions should be an ongoing process, and trying to do everything at once increases the chances of giving up completely. It also is suggested to have an “accountability partner” to help keep you on track and provide motivation should you get off track.

Now that you have some tips on how to better keep those New Year’s resolutions, you may wonder what goals you should set for yourself in 2019. The American Geriatric Society’s Health in Aging Foundation recommends these resolutions for older adults who want to stay healthy into the New Year and beyond:

Consider a multivitamin. Consult your physician to see which daily supplement may be best for you.

Look into an exercise routine. Even mild to moderate physical activity can improve your health and help with such conditions as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis. Tai chi, water aerobics, walking, and stretching are examples of beneficial activities, and your insurance company may even cover the SilverSneakers program and allow access to a local fitness center. Being in physical shape will also help you to guard against falls, which affect one in three older adults each year.

See your health provider regularly. Regular visits can provide an opportunity to talk about any medications you’re taking and whether you need any immunizations or screenings.

Give your brain a boost. Mental health is just as important as physical health as we age, and frequent crossword puzzles and Sudoku challenges can do wonders, as can regular socialization. If lifelong learning is your thing, local colleges and universities may allow you to audit classes at no charge.

Toast with a smaller glass. The Foundation reports that excessive drinking can make you feel depressed, increase your chances of falling, affect your sleep, and contribute to other health problems. The recommended limit for older men is 14 drinks per week—one drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor—and for older women, it’s seven drinks per week.

Even if you didn’t have specific resolutions in mind when the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, it isn’t too late to make small changes, create new habits, and make 2019 your best year yet!

Jeff Robinson is a feature writer for My Communicator, where this article was published in the Winter 2019 issue.