New Year, New Beginning, Same Old You

by Dr. William “Marty” Martin

For many, celebrating the New Year means making resolutions. As January fades away, so, too, do our actions regarding our commitments or resolutions.

Resolve is defined as “to make a definite and serious decision to do something.” Plenty of us, including myself, resolve to lose weight, exercise more, save more, read more, or a host of other goals. The key question to ask yourself is: What happens after I make the decision? Let’s take two individuals — Maria and John.

Write It Down

Maria writes down her New Year’s Resolution to increase from 3,000 to 7,500 the number of steps she walks each day after getting a Fitbit as a holiday gift. John tweets to his contacts that he is going to trim down in preparation for spring and get back to his college-era shape and stamina. Whose goal is more specific? Of course, you can measure Maria’s goal and you can track progress. But John’s goal is fuzzy and somewhat vague. The evidence is clear that specific goals are more likely to be achieved than fuzzy, vague goals.

Focus Wins the Day

Maria decided to simply focus on this one goal –increasing the number of daily steps taken – for the first 3 months of the year. John, however, identified 5 areas of improvement for the next 3 months including getting back his old shape. Who would you predict will reach their goal? Hopefully, you thought “Maria.” And you are correct if you did. Why? Because focusing on one goal at a time increases the probability of achieving that goal.

Patience Paralyzes Quitting

Maria is patient with herself. She recognizes that it takes more than sheer willpower to develop a new behavior or habit. Ideally, Maria hopes to reach her goal within 3 months but she will not beat herself up if it takes 4 months. John believes that if you want it bad enough, if you’re willing to endure some pain, then you will reach your goal or realize your resolution. If you ask John when he wants to look like he used to, he will tell you “yesterday.” He is not patient with himself.

If you were to place a wager, would you bet on Maria or John realizing their resolution? If you picked Maria, again, you’ve backed the winner. Research evidence published in the European Journal of Social Psychology tells us that it takes, on average, 66 days to develop a new habit.

The ABCs of Habits

Maria realized two things. Wearing her Fitbit and reading her email reminded her to get stepping. And she has always given herself little rewards throughout the day for making progress.

These micro-rewards are as simple as self-congratulatory statements or reading a couple of pages of an engaging book or magazine. John continues to say to himself that he has got to return to his old good-looking, attractive, sexy self. He is oblivious to the effects his habit of snacking–throughout the workday, at home, on vacation, and on business trips–will have on his goals.

John does not believe in rewarding himself until “the job is done.” For him, the job is not done until he looks like he used to look when he was much younger. That is why John in all likelihood will not realize his resolution, and Maria most likely will.

Psychologists developed an A-B-C model of behavior. This model also applies to habits. The “A” stands for antecedents or triggers to behavior. The “B” is the target behavior. For example, for Maria, it is steps taken each day. The “C” represents consequences (positive or negative) after engaging in the behavior.

Leverage Strengths

Maria’s self-congratulatory thoughts are known by psychologists as self-affirmations. There is a direct link between self-affirmations and behavior change. Affirming yourself as it relates to a particular resolution, goal, or desired habit enables you to review and catalog your strengths.

Coaching and family therapy literature has shown the power of leveraging strengths when assisting individuals to change their behaviors and reach their goals. This does not mean that Maria should overlook or deny her weaknesses. It only means that she should focus on her strengths more than her weaknesses. These five evidence-based tips will get you closer to realizing your resolutions. They offer you enough information and support to do more than simply decide–they can help you move into action.


Quite simply, this means “do what you intend to do, and do it, and do it again and again.” Goal achievement, and more broadly, realizing your resolutions is all about DOING not THINKING and not INTENDING but DOING.


Marty MartinMarty Martin, PsyD, is a Psychologist in the Chicago office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm.

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