Emphasize the positive: Instead of resolving to “lose weight,” resolve to exercise five times per week, says clinical social worker Dan Buccino.
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“I will lose some weight.”
“I will quit smoking.”
“I will stop wasting valuable time on the Internet.”
Every New Year, countless Americans make resolutions such as these. Some keep them, but many do not. All, however, take the step of identifying an area of their life that they want to improve.
To understand how to make New Year’s resolutions more effective, the Baltimore Guide spoke to Dan Buccino, an assistant professor and clinical supervisor at Johns Hopkins Bayview’s Adult Outpatient Community Psychiatry Program. Buccino is a clinical social worker who very often works with people trying to improve their lives.
Baltimore Guide: Is it a good idea, in your opinion, to make a New Year’s resolution?
Buccino: Sure, they can be as good an inspiration as any. Who knows? Sometimes it takes several efforts to change some behavior. Why not use the new year to say ‘let’s try it again.’
Why are these resolutions so hard to keep?
At the end of the day, changing behaviors can be very difficult, especially if they’re habits like eating too much, smoking, or drinking too much.
Those behaviors can take on a life of their own and be hard to change under the best of circumstances. If somebody is making a New Year’s resolution half-heartedly, it’s going to be hard to keep.
How can people keep their resolutions?
It’s good to think of them in terms of the presence of things rather than the absence of things: Rather than ‘I want to lose weight,’ try ‘I will stop eating sweets and I will go to the gym five days per week.’ It’s much easier to visualize a preferred version of onesself if you have specific, concrete goals.
Someone who has an addiction, they don’t want to ‘quit drinking’ so much as they want to ‘stay married.’
What do you want to do better? What do you want to do more of? Define the goals in very specific terms.
Why do you think people make New Year’s resolutions?
It’s another opportunity to take stock and see where you are and where you want to go. There are milestones: the new year, spring cleaning, fall cleaning. The changing of the seasons seems to be a time when people think about making changes.
At Bayview, we have a lot of specialized addiction services…The new year can be a time to remind them, ‘you’ve got to get back to meetings,’ or ‘you’ve got to get to more meetings.’
Do you make New Year’s resolutions?
Occasionally—usually it’s just a reminder to tighten up on things I had started before. People over-indulge on holidays, and the new year is a way to get things back on track.
As an avid runner, I look at the year and decide what races I want to run.
Speaking of addiction, can you replace a ‘bad addiction’ such as drugs with a ‘good addiction’ such as exercise?
Sometimes you want to help people trade one addiction for another. If you can help people do something more productive with that kind of energy, then sometimes it’s helpful.
by Erik Zygmont