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Though sixty-one percent of adults make New Year's resolutions, very few'between five and 15 percent'actually see them through to completion. Why do so few of us actually stick to our resolutions?

Though sixty-one percent of adults make New Year's resolutions, very few between five and 15 percent actually see them through to completion. Why do so few of us actually stick to our resolutions? It's true that everyone has the capacity for change. But there is a big difference between wishing and wanting change and actually setting a realizable goal.

Simply telling yourself you're going to quit smoking or shed excess pounds won't get you anywhere. Imagine if you packed your suitcases and said you wanted to drive to California without having any idea of how to get there. For your New Year's resolution to become a reality, you need direction and you need to be prepared.

Are You Ready To Change?

Before making a New Year's resolution, decide if you're ready to make a change. Change means giving up what you're comfortable with, so step back a moment and examine yourself in the context of your life as objectively as you can. Weigh the pros and cons. With change, you need to be able to let go of the old, and open yourself to the new.

True change has five stages.

  1. Awareness: I am aware that I need to change.
  2. Emotion: I want to change.
  3. Decision: I have decided to change.
  4. Cognition: I know how to change.
  5. Action: I am changing.

Too many of us jump to the action stage prematurely. Today's society has taught us to look for, and to expect, a quick fix. Want to lose weight? Take a pill. Want to quit smoking? Put on a patch.

In reality, successful goal setting takes a lot of effort and forces us to ask ourselves questions when we may not like the answers. Goal setting is not about escapism or feeling comfortable. It's about challenging ourselves and finding the missing piece of the puzzle that prevents us from changing.

In setting your personal agenda for 2003, work through these steps to make sure you have all the information you need.

Awareness: What do I Really Want?

Most people aren't clear on what they truly want because they haven't really thought it through. Build your goals on the basis of your values and write them to achieve clarity.
Be realistic and compassionate. Instead of instructing yourself to drop 20 pounds, resolve to replace the unhealthy foods in your diet with more wholesome ones. Put your resolutions in the present tense and frame them as positives, not negatives: e.g., :I am eating a healthier diet," instead of "I will not eat any more fattening foods."

Emotion/Decision: Why do I Want It?

Make sure you have a solid list of reasons to stiffen your resolve. Do you want to lose weight because you want to fit into your old clothes again? Because you want to walk into a room full of people without feeling self-conscious? Because your spouse wants you to?

Many goals we set for ourselves come from other people and their visions of us rather than from ourselves and our own vision of who we are.

This is one reason why we ultimately abandon our New Year's resolutions.

You can't waste time and energy trying to convince yourself that you need to change. To accomplish your goal, it must come from you, and you must truly own it.

Cognition: How am I Going to Achieve My Goal?

Most people who fail at achieving their goal didn't really believe they could do it in the first place. Their fears and lack of self-confidence get the better of them.

If you're one of those people, ask yourself what you fear most: that you will never succeed in the goals you have set for yourself, or that you will fail? If you stop to think about it, the two are mutually exclusive. To succeed, you must run the risk of failure.

Visualize yourself as having achieved your goal. This exercise will make it more real, address any lingering fears you may have about pursuing it and help give you the incentive you need.

Action: Set a Goal and Follow it Through

Divide your goal into incremental steps, complete with benchmarks and timelines. Determine sources of support to help you along the way. One source of support is coaching.You can also "buddy up" with other people going through similar processes of change.

How to Keep from Slipping Up

Most people who make New Year's resolutions will slip up in the course of the year. They may use roadblocks or excuses such as lack of time or money to justify abandoning their goals. Or they may simply find their energy and commitment levels stalling as time wears on.

Ultimately, it all comes down to priorities. If you're convinced of the necessity of achieving your goal and have done the requisite emotional prep work, you can accomplish what you set out to do. Here's how to stay on the straight and narrow.

Be aware. Gauge your patterns of behaviour and make note of them. Do you procrastinate, avoid, make excuses or surround yourself with clutter? Do you people-please, put yourself last on your list or find it hard to make time for yourself?

Get the support you need. Find people who can act as your cheerleaders and confidants: friends, family, a support group, a coach someone other than yourself to whom you can be accountable.

Dismantle your roadblocks. If you're trying to quit smoking but light up when you're in a smoky bar, avoid smoky bars. If you want to spend more time with your family but are always being called into the office, cut back on your hours or schedule some non-negotiable family time. If lack of self-confidence is your roadblock, seek help in building your self-confidence.

Try again. Forgive yourself for messing up, but don't forget your original goal. Having learned from your mistake, get back to working on it.

Keep it Real

Finally, remember to keep things real. We love to romanticize the past or dream wistfully about the future. But change can only happen in real time. If you're serious about achieving your goal, focus all your energy on the present and concentrate on taking action, even in small steps.

A good New Year's resolution is a promise that you make to yourself. Don't sell yourself short as you strive to keep yours in 2003. You're worth the effort.

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