RESOLUTION ROW: Keeping resolutions a matter of accountability, support

Published 8:15 pm Friday, January 1, 2016


Every year, the clock hits midnight, and a new year is born. While the celebration of the event may be just a brief moment in time, the resolutions that come with it are intended to last much longer.

But sticking to resolutions can be challenging, simply because a resolution usually involves an attempt to permanently change a pattern of behavior — and that takes work.

“If you look at the definition of resolution, it’s basically (that) you’re trying to subside a pathological state,” said Dr. Paul Garcia, chief of psychiatry for Vidant Beaufort Hospital.

Whether that’s quitting smoking, losing weight or getting in shape, people are compelled to make New Year’s resolutions because they are not comfortable with that particular aspect of their lives, Garcia said. A new year represents a new beginning and assigning the old year, and old habits, to the past.

The most common resolution is weight loss, Garcia said. But breaking the bad habit of overeating is tougher than it seems, because cells in the gut that stimulate a person to eat also stimulate dopamine release, an event related to feelings of pleasure. In that way, food and its chemical trigger of the reward center is no different than other types of substance abuse.

But the key to losing weight, or giving up smoking, or any other resolution, is about creating new habits in place of the old. One study Garcia mentioned said new habits are cemented in 66 days; but he believes that if a person can keep up a behavior for 21 days, success is likely.

At Vidant Wellness Center in Washington, the aim is three months participation in Vidant’s smoking-cessation program, weight loss and new exercise programs, according to Wellness Center Director Judy Van Dorp.

“We plan a lot of things around a 3-month period of time. Three months seems to be kind of a magic number,” Van Dorp said. “We try to hold them accountable for 12 weeks before we let them fly on their own.”

Accountability is just one of several aspects that play into whether a New Year’s resolution is a success in the long term, however.


Be accountable

Sharing a resolution with others — friends, family, coworkers — is a step toward being held accountable for one’s actions, and a way to get continual feedback from one’s peers.

“You’d be surprised. You’ll get support. They might even join you,” Garcia said.

Finding someone with the same goal in mind can make creating new habits easier, as well. Making use of free apps like Lose It, which measures caloric intake and provides peer support, is another way to create accountability. But when it comes to losing weight, there’s no better way to be held accountable than to stand on scale every day, according to Garcia.

“The scale is not going to lie to you,” Garcia said. “Be honest with yourself, but also be accountable.”


Set realistic goals

As director of the Wellness Center, Van Dorp said she sees a first-week-of-January rush every year — people plunging into a new exercise regimen with glee. For some, it works, but for most, it’s too much, too soon, she said. Rather than committing to an hour at the gym every day of the week, taking 15 minutes out of the day to take a walk is absolutely achievable, and can be built upon.

“Don’t overdo it,” Van Dorp said. “Make it a reasonable goal.”

The same can be said for losing weight. Set a goal of 10 pounds and work to meet that goal. Healthy weight loss is two pounds a week, Garcia said.


Write it down

Journaling can play a very important role in achieving New Year’s resolution success. Garcia remembers being in high school, writing down his career plan and hitting those goals over the years. He said studies have shown that those who write down their goals tend to achieve those goals more often than those who do not.

“The act of writing itself is actually pretty powerful,” Garcia said. “It’s almost like a contract with yourself — and you just review it.”

Van Dorp agrees. A written history gives people a way to continually check how they’re doing in relation to the end goal.

“I like people to write things down so they can measure their goal,” Van Dorp said. “I think that helps a lot.”


Find support

Ideally, it’s spouses, family members and friends who will be the cheering squad when someone has set a goal for themselves. But sometimes, those people might not be as supportive as one would hope.

“Don’t let you self esteem be based on someone else’s judgment of you,” Garcia said.

Finding support can be as easy as attending group exercise classes, signing up for Wellness Center programs, or simply finding someone else who shares those goals.

“One of the things, is just get support; get social support. Make sure you are surrounded by people who are going to support you,” Garcia said.


Failure is temporary

New Year’s resolutions vary widely, but often before finding success in creating a new, better habit, there will be stumbles along the way. Both Garcia and Van Dorp say those stumbles are no big deal, just as long as they don’t turn into a permanent fall.

“Just recognize, failing is part of anything in life. Most people don’t succeed until they fail,” Garcia said.

“A relapse is no big deal — you can start over the next day,” Van Dorp said. “It’s just if those relapses get closer and closer together. … But falling off the wagon doesn’t mean the end of the world, if you think about it the right way.”