- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

Oh, dear. Losing weight, kicking unsavory habits, saving money — are they just too traumatic in this day and age? Maybe. Traditional New Year’s resolutions should be abandoned — or at least retooled, some observers say.

“My advice to everyone this year is to resolve not to set New Year’s resolutions,” said Stephen R. Covey, the Utah-based author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Ambitious Americans, he noted, set too many resolutions, fail at them, then get discouraged. One or two clear resolutions in “manageable chunks” will do, Mr. Covey said.

Ravi Dahr, a consumer behavior specialist at Yale University, called the act of making well-meaning resolutions “counterproductive” because it can backfire.

Those goals, Mr. Dahr maintains, can mutate into excuses for other naughty behaviors. Armed with their shiny new resolutions, many people convince themselves that establishing the grand goal is enough, ignoring the discipline it takes to accomplish it.

“There is a degree of irony in this. If you believe that you are making progress toward a goal, it can lead you to make choices that move you further away from actually attaining it,” Mr. Dahr said.

He cited the example of people who join a gym in the name of newfound fitness, then feel they are entitled to sneak out for an ice-cream cone.

A study from the Yale School of Management and the University of Chicago provides further proof. Someone who opens a savings account thinks that the visit to the bank alone is proof he has made an effort, eventually concluding “that spending money on indulgences is justified.”

It also found that among those who had made the decision to diet, 85 percent felt it was all right to choose a chocolate bar instead of an apple to eat.

“Focusing on perceived progress toward a goal frequently liberates an individual to pursue another, incompatible goal,” the study concluded.

About 100 million people will make resolutions as one year ends and the next begins, the University of Washington says. The failure rate can be abysmal, though, as the university estimates almost four out of 10 of us will break our resolutions.

In many cases, we’ve set ourselves up for it, said the Harvard University School of Medicine.

“What doesn’t work? One common mistake is to have too many goals. Another formula for failure is to set your sights on behaviors that are too vague, such as being a better spouse. A third pitfall is setting goals that are too lofty,” noted the Dec. 22 edition of the Harvard Health Letter.

And forget about keeping a resolution to please someone else.

“You’re more likely to achieve goals that match your own interests and values, rather than those that reflect outside pressures or expectations. In other words, you’re more likely to keep a resolution if the motivation is coming from you, not someone else,” the newsletter stated.

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