Keeping New Year's Resolutions

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

How do you make lasting changes in your life? Life coaches offer some tips.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

Lose 10 pounds. Get organized. Find a new career. Every year, we list our New Year's resolutions. We know we need to change. Trouble is, those same resolutions will top next year's list, too. Why are New Year's resolutions so difficult to keep?

Larry LaMotte is a life coach who helps people improve their lives. He's just as guilty as the next guy, he says. "Believe me, I've broken my share of New Year's resolutions." What gets us off track? Their supreme negativity, he tells WebMD.

"Our resolutions often are something we feel we need to do, but not what we want to do. We're starting in the hole to begin with."

Just look at the word "diet," says Brian Tuffy, of Possibility Enterprises, Inc., who is also a life coach. "Look at the first three letters. Now that's a negative. The whole concept feels negative. We can't have soda, can't eat candy. We love dessert, but we can't have it. We start out denying ourselves the things we love."

So how can you make this year truly different? Here are a few tips:

Take time to reflect.

LaMotte spent 19 years as a CNN reporter before he made a major career change and became a life coach. But that change didn't come easy, he says. "I chased news stories all day, then went home and faced other responsibilities there. I was just doing and doing and doing -- not thinking, not reflecting on who I was, where I wanted to go."

Our lives tend to be that way, regardless what job you have, he says. "We have so many responsibilities, running from one to the next. It's hard to find time for reflection." A life coach helps you stop and think about things -- "that's a life coach's real power," says LaMotte. "When I finally took time to reflect, I was amazed at what came up with."

Tune into your passions.

Lamotte's theory: "We're put on this planet to find our passions, to sail with them. Instead, we tend to notice what we're not. We're told we can do anything we put our mind to -- so if we can't do everything, we feel like failures."

For example, you know you need more exercise. But don't try to be a runner if you hate running. Trying to be what you're not is a waste of time, he says. You won't enjoy it, so you won't keep at it. "Focus on who you are, on producing a life you can enjoy," he says. "We're all given talents. Focus on those."

Pinpoint what drains your energy.

Most people say it: "There's not enough time in the day," LaMotte says. "What we're really saying is, I don't have enough energy. You reach a point in the day when you just run out of energy."

We can try to get more energy through diet and exercise, he adds. But it's important that we also identify those things that drain our energy -- the "holes" in our "energy bucket."

Lots of irritations and frustrations during the day are likely the cause, says LaMotte. "Everyone has different irritants that drain their energy. Either it's your own bad habits or something another person is doing. Trouble is, we get used to these irritants -- to the frustration they cause us -- and barely notice the toll they take on our energy."

LaMotte owns up to his bad habit. "In the course of a day, I may get frustrated because I didn't file something properly. Now I can't find it. Later, I forget the fact that I got frustrated. But when I allow myself to stop and think and feel that frustration, that's when I realize the toll it takes."

Harness the power of emotion.

Say you want to lose 20 pounds. You know it would be good for your health. You know you would look better. But losing weight means turning your back to all sorts of delicious treats -- plus getting off your rear to get some exercise.

You're fighting a battle between emotion and logic, says LaMotte. "Logically, I've always known that I should be organized. Emotionally, however, that has always been a problem for me. Emotions are much more powerful than logic."

"The key is to sit down, face your emotional side, and recognize its power," he tells WebMD. "Recognize that what you tried in the past hasn't worked. That's how you build a case that will overpower your emotions."

Instead, focus on the emotion -- happiness, satisfaction, exhilaration -- that you will feel if you achieve your goal, adds Tuffy. If you need more exercise, focus on the good feelings that running or swimming or playing with the dog will bring. If you also need to eat fewer chips, fewer desserts, focus on the positive emotions the end result will bring.

That's how you can sustain your commitment to weight loss, Tuffy tells WebMD. "That emotion feels better, so you're more likely to do that. This isn't about the old positive reinforcement -- does it feel good? It's about spending more time feeling good rather than feeling bad."

In fact, go one step further: Change "lose weight this year" to "I want to have a happy and healthy body," Tuffy says. "I want to be able to rollerblade. I want to swim like I swam in high school. I want to look good for my high school reunion. I want to fit into the clothes I used to love wearing. It's about replacing a bad habit with a positive emotion you can focus on."

Develop a support group.

Too often, we try to make changes alone. It helps to have a support group -- family, friends, whoever -- to help keep you on track, says LaMotte.

If you want to lose 10 pounds, let everyone know you're going to be doing that. Tell them to ask you how you're doing, to make you stay with it. It's better than going it alone, he adds.

Visualize yourself making the change.

Golfers use visualization techniques; so do tennis players and other athletes, says LaMotte. It's a step-by-step process in which they imagine themselves hitting the ball a certain way. When done properly, visualization actually helps them hit the ball that way. "It's a pretty powerful process," he tells WebMD.

Meditation and yoga can also help bring you the sense of calm -- the quiet time -- necessary for visualizing a specific outcome, he says.

"Often, we don't recognize quiet time as an important part of the day, just as important as brushing our teeth," LaMotte tells WebMD. "We can let our lives be ruled by our genes, let ourselves go on autopilot. But if we're really going to make changes in our lives, we have to use this resource called the brain. We can stop and calm ourselves down to the extent that we can actually think. Once you do it, you put yourself in a new dimension."

Be brave.

It takes courage to move out of your comfort zone, says LaMotte. If you lose weight, people will start acting differently toward you. "We get nervous because we don't know what they're thinking and what they're expecting. We're out of our comfort zone. The old eating patterns of the comfort zone want to pull you right back in."

Success breeds success, he adds. "After you've made one change, you feel the passion and like it, because you have ventured out of your comfort zone and succeeded. You're then motivated to make other changes," he tells WebMD.

Published Jan. 13, 2003.

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