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Millions venture down a well-traveled path paved with bold and sometimes hastily conceived New Year's resolutions. 

It is a route covered with promises to exercise more, lose weight, stop smoking, cut down on alcohol, eat a healthier diet and make new friends. All of these are not necessarily broken promises. 

The study, conducted by Elizabeth Miller, a UW doctoral candidate in psychology (1997), and Alan Marlatt, director of the university's Addictive Behaviors Research Center, sought to understand the factors that best predict success in keeping New Year's resolutions. The researchers focused on health-related resolutions because these types of pledges are the most common and 60 percent die from illnesses connected to behavior such as overeating, lack of exercise and smoking. In addition, little is known about the process by which people make successful behavior changes

"The keys to making a successful resolution are a person's confidence that he or she can make the behavior change and the commitment to making that change," says Miller. In addition, the study indicates that "resolutions are a process, not a one-time effort that offer people a chance to create new habits." Even if people are successful, they need to follow-up on their behavior over the years, she adds. 

To be successful with your own resolutions, Marlatt, who has studied the subject for more than 20 years, suggests: 

  • Have a strong initial commitment to make a change

  • Have coping strategies to deal with problems that will come up

  • Keep track of your progress. The more monitoring you do and feedback you get, the better you will do

Sure-fire ingredients for setting yourself up for resolution failure, he adds, include: 

  • Not thinking about making resolutions until the last minute.

  • Reacting on New Year's Eve and making your resolutions based on what's bothering you or is on your mind at that time.

  • Framing your resolutions as absolutes by saying, "I will never do X again."

As final words of encouragement to resolution makers, Marlatt suggests: "Take credit for success when you achieve a resolution, but it is a mistake to blame yourself if you fail. Instead, look at the barriers that were in your way. See how you can do better the next time and figure out a better plan to succeed. You do get to try again and can make behavior changes throughout the year, not only at New Year's." 

University of Washington 12 97


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