There’s something about a new year that makes humans yearn for a fresh start.
And that inevitably leads to people making promises that most will fail to keep or setting goals that they will never achieve.
In fact, surveys repeatedly show that a lot of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only a few manage to keep them. A 2008 Harris Interactive survey found that 66 percent of adults have made a New Year’s resolution while only 17 percent stuck with them. The survey also discovered that more women than men make resolutions while more men than women keep them.
The key to the men keeping their promises? They tend to tell their spouses what they want to do, according to the survey.
When the Review-Journal asked readers to share their New Year’s resolutions, that male/female pattern was apparent. Only women responded and most of them said they had set resolutions previously but rarely achieved them.
In an effort to help them break that pattern, we selected a few of the responses and asked experts to give the women advice. As additional encouragement, we promised a drawing for a $100 gift card. Las Vegan Linda Spatafora was selected for her resolution to de-clutter her closet.
There are a few general tips that anyone can use to help them achieve a goal. The first is to set a manageable goal, says Ron Lawrence, a therapist at the Community Counseling Center. That old cliche, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step," has a lot of truth in it.
Keeping a progress journal can help with staying on track, too. Write down the goal and how you can reach it. Share your resolution with another person and visualize yourself succeeding.
Ultimately, whether resolution makers are successful in 2011 depends on only one thing: willpower.
Resolution No. 1: "I am a 50-plus woman who’s been driving in her dreams but never in reality. … I break into a cold sweat and my heart pounds the moment I sit behind the wheel of a car. My learner’s permit expires soon, so my New Year’s resolution is to pull on my big girl pants, take the driving test and get my license. But I’m terrified."
The woman’s inability to drive is based on anxiety, Lawrence says. He recommends that our driving-impaired reader go to the DMV and renew her learner’s permit first. That way, she won’t feel like an expiration date is looming over her shoulder.
Next, work on dealing with the fears. A good trainer or therapist can help her desensitize herself to driving, Lawrence says.
The therapist once had a client who couldn’t drive after crippling anxiety developed because of a car accident. He took his client to an empty parking lot and had him sit behind the wheel. On the first day, his client drove 50 feet. On consecutive days, he added a bit more to the driving task, having him go in a circle, leave the parking lot, drive on a road. He recently wrote Lawrence that he was driving every day.
"It’s really the fear she has to deal with," Lawrence says. "Desensitization makes you behave out of your fears."
This kind of resolution may require a professional therapist to help overcome the anxiety and what it’s based on, Lawrence says.
Resolution No. 2: A 67-year-old woman wants to reduce clutter, organize her closet and get rid of clothing not worn in years.
"I have had this problem for years," she writes. "I will sporadically clean out some clothes and give them to charity, but this is an ongoing problem related to weight issues. I have clothes in different sizes and refuse to get rid of the smaller clothes. My closet drives my husband crazy but I’m having a difficult time following through on cleaning it out. I have separation difficulty. This is a minor problem in the kitchen, also."
Getting organized is among the top New Year’s resolutions people make, says Christine Ruggiero, owner of The Lakes Professional Organizers. In recognition of that, January was named GO Month, for Get Organized, by the National Association of Professional Organizers.
People often have trouble parting with things they don’t need anymore because they have sentimental attachments, Ruggiero says. If that’s the case, keep in mind that there’s someone out there who could benefit from your old business suits or old toys or just about anything that you don’t use anymore.
Then, make a plan of attack. If it’s overwhelming, Ruggiero says, break the task down into more manageable chunks of time. And remember, the task doesn’t have to be completed all at once.
"Maybe do just one side of the closet. Get a timer and set it for 15 or 20 minutes," Ruggiero says.
For the closet: Start with a bin outside the closet door and a pledge to take your items to a local charity. Don’t try on clothes, start first with the things you know don’t fit. If you feel hesitant about parting with something, think about the person who could use it.
"The goal is to get rid of things that don’t serve you," Ruggiero says. "If you have to go around things to find something in your closet, then you’re serving your items. Your items should serve you."
Also, employ the trick that men use when they set resolutions: Tell someone. Enlist a buddy to organize with you. You can spend one afternoon at the friend’s house, helping, and then the next afternoon at your house. People tend to complete a task when others know their goal, Ruggiero says.
"Accountability is a huge factor to success," Ruggiero says. "When you buddy up with a friend, you’re both being held accountable to each other."
Resolution No. 3: "The hardest thing that I must try not to do is to be bossy and give advice to others."
The key to changing a behavior is to understand why you do it, therapist Lawrence says.
Someone who is bossy or tries to give advice is trying to assume an authoritarian role, Lawrence says. That can be rooted in feelings of insecurity or fearing that your opinion doesn’t matter. It also can be rooted in the desire to "save the world," he says.
"My advice to them is to become a listener," Lawrence says. "Simply become receptive to what others say and supportive of them rather than giving feedback."
Even therapists don’t tell people what to do or give advice, Lawrence notes. Instead, they try to make people aware of their choices.
Visualization can play an important role in achieving a goal, Lawrence says. In this case, the bossy woman should visualize herself behaving in the way she wants to. Ask yourself, "How would you be? Who would you be and how would you behave in your relationships?" he adds.
"It creates a road map to follow," Lawrence says. "It’s all about personal growth."
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.