By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Like most people, I have had my ups and downs with New Year's Resolutions. In my twenties, I never failed to make them. Then, after children, I just sort of fell out of the habit. That was a mistake, according to research from scientists John Norcross and Marci Mrykalo of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.
Their study found that resolutions work. At least they work better than not making resolutions at all. People who make New Year's resolutions are almost 12 times more successful in achieving their goals than people who so not make resolutions.
Between 40% and 50% of Americans engage in the annual ritual of resolution making, according to 1995 poll by the American Medical Association. The ritual is not uniquely American. We make resolutions because we believe in self-improvement, willpower and the power of renewal.
Germans also make resolutions on New Year's Day, a day they call "Sylvester", after a priest who lived in the third century. The French make hat they all "good resolutions".
Around the world our resolutions differ in some ways and are surprisingly similar in others. In 2017, the top French resolutions were to "give myself a relaxing time", spend more time with family and friends, exercise and stop smoking." Sound familiar?
In America, physical improvement (losing weight being a favorite), financial success and improving relationships are perennial resolutions.
Men and Women Make Different New Year's Resolutions
The Scranton study looked at the success rates of people who initially had decided not to make resolutions.
Coaxed into revealing what their resolutions would be if they made one, men were more likely to say they wanted to stop smoking (19% versus 10% of women), while women were more likely to cite losing weight as a goal (34% versus 26%). Exercising more was also cited almost equally by men and women.
Having Confidence Separates the Successful New Year's Resolvers from Those Who Fail
Many people believe that having group/social support helps you to keep your resolutions. Wrong. How about having a desire to change -- does it improve your chances of changing? Nope. Moreover, even having the skills to change will not improve your odds of following a resolution successfully, the Scranton study found.
Only two traits help to improve your chances of keeping a New Year's resolution. One is being "ready to change". The other is having confidence.
Confidence is the critical difference between keeping a resolution or not.
Use Self Talk to Improve Confidence
Scientists have long known that what people say to themselves affects how they behave. A study from University in Greece studied how self talk affects atletic performnce. They divided 72 tennis players onto two groups. One group used positive selftalk before practicing forehands and the other did not. The group that used positive self tal had meaurably higher levels of confidence and performed signoficantly better than the group that did not use self talk.
You can use self talk to "pump yourself up". One way to use self talk is to review past instances of success.
Feed on success. Amplify the success you have experienced by remembering it at the beginning of the day, at the beginning of the week.
Find a word or set of words that you can use to summarize the positive feelings you want to sustain. It could be something as simple as "done" or "let's go!". The tennis great Raphael Nadal, who in currently Number 1 in the world, famously uses "vamos!" to fire himself up and propel himself forward.
Even people who already are successful can see their confidence wane in the face of challenges. Only the strongest will not wilt.
What scientists have learned about the most successful people is that they actually feed off failure. They see failure as a new challenge, something to learn from and ultimately defeat.
What kind of animal actually feeds on the stuff that depresses the rest of us? That would be a winner.
Transform yourself into a person who keeps New Year's Resolutions by acknowledging that you will fail. But train yourself to think of that failure as the golden opportunity to re-dedicate yourself to your goal.
Here's the key. Welcome the next failure as simply another chance to start again and feel good about yourself again. Tell yourself that 99 out of 100 people would not be able to start again. But you can and you will. And every time you start again, you prove once more that indeed you are that 1 out of 100 who does.
Listen, it's like being a champion boxer. You like to get the knockout. But if the guy keeps getting up, you relish the chance to knock him down again.
You want to lose weight? Celebrate the number of days you stayed true to your diet. And if you go off the rails, and all of us do, just start again the next day, applauding yourself for "beating" the failure once again. It becomes a powerful feedback loop of success.
See you on the other side of success.