When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, think small

  • “These opportunities to check in and ask ‘how am I doing?’ can be really useful — whatever supports us in being more aware about the choices we’re making in life and how it’s working for us,” said Ruth Folchman, a practicing clinical psychologist of Everyday Mindfulness in Northampton. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Try adding a few more veggies to your diet. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Staff Writer
Published: 1/4/2019 11:05:13 AM

On one recent cold and rainy afternoon, Mike Hills stood beneath an awning in downtown Northampton eating a hot pastry. He made the trip with his wife from New York to visit WEBS America's Yarn Store and stopped at Tart Baking Company for one last treat before New Year’s Day.

“Just before this sticky bun, I decided I was going to eat really well (afterward),” Hills said, pausing between bites. “This is the last hurrah. I came all this way to get this sticky bun.”

Starting on Jan. 1, 2019, Hills plans to opt for home cooking over fast food and limit how often he eats out at restaurants. Eating well “starts in the supermarket,” he said.

Hills, along with many others, intends to use Tuesday’s calendar change as motivation to achieve a personal goal.

But that’s easier said than done.

While a lot of people make resolutions, most research has concluded — including one research article published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology from the University of Scranton — that people aren’t good at keeping them. In that study, less than 20 percent of the participants were still on track in a followup months later.

A big reason for this is because New Year’s resolvers generally make their resolutions too broad and general, said Dr. Terese Weinstein Katz of Eat Sanely in Northampton. Weinstein Katz is a psychologist who specializes in helping people with eating disorders.

In contrast, those who are successful typically make small and concrete goals — micro-resolutions, like parking further from the supermarket to add a little more walking.

Instead of going on a diet to lose weight, resolve “to eat three more portions of vegetables per week,” or “go for a walk every day. Something you can wrap your mind around and measure,” she said.

Clarity of intention can also help resolutions stick, according to Ruth Folchman, a practicing clinical psychologist of Everyday Mindfulness in Northampton. In her work as a psychologist and mindfulness instructor, Folchman said those who narrow the focus of their goals are more successful at meeting them.

“The clearer you are about (a resolution), the more useful it can be in guiding your decision making,” said Folchman, noting that resolutions can be made any time, not just on New Year’s Day.

“These opportunities to check in and ask ‘how am I doing?’ can be really useful — whatever supports us in being more aware about the choices we’re making in life and how it’s working for us,” Folchman said.

With that, in order to make lasting changes, Weinstein Katz said it’s best to start with something that’s easily obtainable.

Once that first goal is achieved, “It becomes easier to go on to the next goal. It opens the door to feeling like you can make change. Whereas the other kind of resolution is abandoned within one to three weeks,” she said.

Colby Zilinski, a personal trainer who works at Anytime Fitness in Northampton, has seen this philosophy play out firsthand. Like Weinstein Katz, he advises new clients to start small and build as the weeks go on.

“Most people get burned out quickly,” Zilinski said. “I suggest making smaller goals to begin with. If you haven’t been to the gym in a while, have a goal of two days a week. Once you’re consistent for a few weeks, then bring that up to three days a week. It’s really easy to start off five or six days a week and lose steam.”

A few others who were walking Northampton’s rainy streets recently shared their perspectives about the coming new year.

Renee Kruszyna, of Cheshire, said her goal for next year is to start a marine biology master’s degree program at James Cook University in Australia, where she has already been accepted.

For Glenn Stanisewski, of Montgomery, the new year is a chance to improve his perspective “in a small way” every day. Typically, Stanisewski said he doesn’t make resolutions because he sees “a disconnect between thought and action,” he said.

This year, though, he decided to make a resolution that he felt was achievable.

“If you do one small thing every day, at the end of the year you can look back and see the impact you had on the world around you,” he said. 

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.


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