- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2003

Uh-oh. The moment has arrived when millions of Americans hold up their hands and solemnly swear to stop, start, lose, gain, increase, decrease, speed up, slow down.

It’s New Year’s resolution time again, and according to surveys from both the University of North Carolina and Washington University, about 40 percent of us — roughly 115 million Americans — make those sincere vows to improve ourselves at year’s end.

But only about one-third keep that promise. Why is that?

Therapists, life coaches, exercise gurus, career consultants and the rest of the self-help crowd agree on the reason: We tend to choose lousy resolutions in the first place, and often have only flimsy plans in mind to carry them out.

“Failure is virtually assured at the offset because the resolutions are not made with serious intent and deliberation,” notes a guide to keeping resolutions from Arizona-based My Goals (www.mygoals.com), a management consulting group. “Give some thought to what you really want, and why you want it. What direct benefits to you hope to receive?”

Ambiguity is the enemy here. Declaring to simply “lose weight” is not good enough. “Lose 15 pounds by April 30 is much more effective,” the guide says, advising that resolutions should be written down with specific wording, then recited out loud.

The most popular resolutions for 2004 are to lose weight and get out of debt, the group added.

“Things might actually be returning to normal,” says spokesman Greg Helmstetter. “Last year, a staggering 27 percent of people’s resolutions were career-related. This year, a marked drop in job-related goals shows people are starting to focus more on family, getting organized and fixing up the house. That’s good news.”

The San Diego-based American Council on Exercise also recommends aspirants “set resolutions that are realistic and based on personal history. Learn from your failures.”

But Los Angeles exercise maven Susan Powter takes the hard line.

“Resolution means to resolve it. Solve it. Conclude. Finito,” she said in a statement Friday. “To make the same resolutions over and over again is insanity.”

Etiquette columnist Sue Morem believes proper resolutions are part of legacy. “Begin by deciding how you would like to be described and remembered,” she said, and act accordingly.

Still, resolutions mean different things to different people.

Computer guru and PC Magazine columnist Bill Howard has resolved to back up his data more often and buy only gear “my family can figure out how to use.”

The American Pet Product Manufacturers Association, however, feels an ideal resolution is to care for dogs and cats more closely, and “massage their teeth with a washcloth for 15 seconds” each day, among other things.

Canadian salsa dance expert Rose Lau wants folks to promise “to have at least one dance with someone you don’t know when you go out to the clubs.”

But don’t turn the resolution quest into punishment, says Pennsylvania-based psychologist Pauline Wallin.

“Allow for imperfection. No one is exactly on target all the time,” she said. “You should expect to falter every now and then. If you give in to temptation, don’t use it as an excuse to abandon the whole program. Learn from your mistake and move on.”

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