By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

We’re just past the midway point of the New Year’s first month and already I have to ask: Do you still have any resolutions left to keep?

Pardon the rude question. It’s really a matter of projecting my own weaknesses on the world. For most of my 69 years, my experience has been that I could break resolutions just as fast as I could make them.

That’s right: some didn’t even survive a day. Most drifted off into a thick haze before the middle of January.  A little research tells me I’m not alone in this regard.

At least we are setting the bar high.

The Marist Institute for Public Opinion’s annual survey says that fully 44 percent of us make New Year’s resolutions, up from 39 percent last year. This year’s most popular New Year’s resolution is “being a better person.” Good luck with that. I hope you stick to it. I really do. The world could use more better persons – a lot more.

In a second place tie were the old saws, “exercising more” and “weight loss.”

High rate of failure

Did you know that only eight percent of people who set New Year’s resolutions actually keep them? Ulp!

According to a study by folks at the University of Scranton, 25 percent of our resolutions are cast aside before a week passes in January. About half are broken within six months.

The Week reports that Facebook check-ins at locations with “gym” or “fitness” in the name drop by 10 percent in February.

Silver lining

Despite these discouraging percentages, The Week reports that those who actually make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve goals than people who don’t bother to make resolutions at all.

So if you went to the bother, take heart. No matter what has happened to your best intentions since you embraced them, you still have a head start on the herd.

Understanding failure

Among the many reasons we fail to keep our resolutions is “false hope syndrome” – where in a surge of optimism we set unrealistic goals, we underestimate the obstacles, or we set too many goals. As Tash  Eurich, an executive coach, told The Week: “As the saying goes, hope is not a plan.”

Experts say pick one goal, make that your resolution, and then develop a clear plan for achieving it.

Want to lose weight? Exactly how, where and when are you going to change your eating habits?

Want to exercise more? When and where are you going to do it? How are you going to adjust your routine to fit in the extra work?

Focus on the small steps and eventually you get to your destination.

Adopting SMART goals

The Week reports that “many productivity experts recommend the SMART goals system, pioneered by legendary management consultant Peter Drucker.” He said goals should be:

  • Specific,
  • Measurable,
  • Achievable,
  • Realistic, and
  • Time-based.

Some people adopt goals with ladders, or incremental milestones, often with monthly targets. That’s what I’ve learned to do to achieve and maintain weight loss. I pick a goal for the end of the month. If I achieve it, I adopt another goal for the next month. If I don’t achieve it, I stick with it for another month. Perseverance can pay off over the long haul – just as long as we don’t give up before achieving our goal.

Google software engineer Matt Cutts offers his thoughts about the value of 30 day goals in a three and a half minute TED Talk video, where he explains how he became a bicyclist, novelist and mountain climber.

If you think it might be more useful, you can set 60 or 90 day goals.

Sticking with it

The biggest problem with resolutions is not that we make them and break them, it’s that we don’t try again when we fail. What’s the old advice when you fall off a horse? Get back on. It’s that way with resolutions too. One failure is not an excuse for quitting. Start over. Stick with it.

By the way, I didn’t achieve the monthly weight loss target I set on New Year’s Day a year ago by the end of January.  But I did hit it on Dec. 14. And I hit it again on Dec. 20. Then I hit it again – five days in a row – beginning Jan. 10.

As of Jan. 17, I still have six ounces to go to hit that same goal again. With any luck at all – and a lot of continued determination, perhaps I can surpass it for good before the end of January 2017 and then adopt a new, lower goal.

At first glance that may not look like victory. But look again. Where would I be today if I had given up and quit at the end of January 2016?

If the past is any indication – and usually it is – I’d be five, maybe 10 pounds heavier. If may not be winning any other contests, but I’m making specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based progress.

Let’s lift a glass to persistence – which can win a year even as it struggles to win a day or a month.

If you choose to lift a glass of light beer, I understand. Although, frankly, I’d rather cut back somewhere else.