- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 2004

Is the traditional New Year’s resolution dead? Some believe that all those earnest vows to lose weight, get organized, stop smoking or save money are, well, just plain hooey.

“Resolutions have a terrible track record because they usually don’t work. You can’t make some random vow one night and expect it to have staying power. You need a plan, you need to take baby steps to make it happen,” said Greg Helmstetter of My Goals, an Arizona-based consulting company that offers decision-making strategies to small businesses.

Nevertheless, folks continue to make a panoply of pledges, according to a sampling of 1,000 personal goals made by the company’s clients during the past year.

One person vowed to “wash my face every night,” and another hoped to obtain a “black belt in kung fu.” Still more promised that they would start a personal journal, lose weight, stop drinking, get a promotion, plant cypress trees, become an actor, learn to salsa dance, write a screenplay and read the entire Bible — among other things.

We may be hard-wired, though, to make such resolutions.

Early in 2004, Indiana University psychologists theorized that people have an almost instinctive need to make virtuous pledges and better themselves.

“Making New Year’s resolutions appeals to us in a very basic way. It’s a ritualized way of reviewing the past year and looking toward the future,” said Nancy Buckles, director of counseling and psychological services at the University Health Center at Indiana University at Bloomington. “It gives us the opportunity to imagine changes we’d like to make.”

But alas — many fail.

Up to 85 percent of us let our resolutions slide by mid-January, at least according to Nancy Morris, a personal-planning consultant based in Ontario, Canada.

“Don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Sounds ironic, but resolutions are the worst place to start. Make goals instead, and make them every month,” she said.

Still, some mighty big authorities have gotten on the resolution bandwagon.

The Department of Homeland Security has advised Americans to “resolve to be ready in 2005” by creating a family emergency plan in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

Under the auspices of “Popular New Year’s Resolutions,” a dozen federal agencies banded together to offer information and advice for those intent on saving money, losing weight, reducing stress, quitting smoking and making other personal improvements. Their counsel can be found at www.firstgov.gov.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association and other public-interest groups also have offered suggestions for resolutions.

But these vows can be hard work.

The Kasper Group, a Philadelphia-based marketing company, asked 104 persons why they had abandoned their New Year’s resolutions. A third said they had procrastinated, 24 percent cited their own lack of discipline,19 percent said they had no “game plan” and 10 percent said they didn’t like “doing it alone.”

The survey also found that a whopping 99 percent felt the need to improve, but only 9 percent had bothered to take any action.

“We are an instant-gratification society,” noted spokeswoman Gail Kasper, adding that most of us are more interested in buying a new car than buckling down and bettering ourselves.

Some think we should get rid of New Year’s resolutions all together.

“Filled with ‘shoulds,’ resolutions become so ineffective that many create them as a sort of joke. The game becomes how quickly we can break them,” said Brad Swift, a “life coach” and founder of the North Carolina-based Life on Purpose Institute.

He proposes replacing resolutions with a sense of “life purpose.” All it takes is a little heart, and a clear vision, he advised.

“‘Should-based’ resolutions lack the sustaining power of passion-packed projects,” he said. “Living on purpose works.”

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