Every January, millions of people resolve to get in shape and stick to a program, only to find life somehow gets in the way come February.

According to StatisticBrain.com, only 8 percent of Americans successfully achieve a New Year’s resolution. But on the same page, they claim: “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.” It’s more than a little confusing. Do they work or not?

New Year’s resolutions are tricky. They sound like real commitments: “I will work out more” or “I will lose weight,” but we all know that no one keeps them. (Well, there’s that 8 percent, but they’re likely not reading this.) This makes them a perfect example of what psychologists call ambivalence.

  • “I’m going to run more … but I don’t have time.”
  • “I will eat more veggies … but I don’t know how to cook them.”
  • “I should get out for a walk … but it’s too cold out there.”

Ambivalence is the pro-versus-con dance that happens when we think about change. First, we think of a reason to change, then we think of a reason not to change. The more we consider the disadvantages of changing, the less we want to change. And then we stop thinking about it all together.

Personal trainers, sports coaches, health coaches and even business coaches all have methods that help people get past ambivalence to reach their goals. In this article, we borrow two coaching concepts to kick off a healthier 2017.

Start with self-compassion

According to researcher Kristin Neff, Ph.D., self-compassion is the simple but revolutionary idea that we should “treat ourselves with the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”

Would we ever say to a friend: “Oh my god, you need to lose weight, just look at you”? Of course we wouldn’t. We value our friends for who they are, and we don’t expect them to be perfect. So why do we say it to ourselves?

Some people are naturally self-compassionate, while for others it’s a radical new concept. Neff even has a quiz to test our level of self-compassion.

To be clear, self-compassion isn’t the same as ignoring problems. “You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are,” Neff writes.

The power of this shows up in real, measurable ways. According to “Time” magazine, practicing self-compassion helped people in one study quit smoking faster. In another analysis, it was linked to better eating and better sleep, less stress and more exercise. Clearly, self-compassion is a great starting point for a healthier new year.

New Year’s questions

Rituals are powerful. Having one at the start of each year isn’t just poetic, it’s also practical. How many Fortune 500 companies would skip their annual planning? (Hint: None!)

Motivational interviewing is a method coaches use to get us thinking about why we want to change and how we might make it happen. These kinds of questions point us in the direction of change before we decide to act.

1. What do I want?

When we think about goals, we need to think realistic and specific. Say we want to lose weight this year. How much weight, specifically? And is this a realistic amount? (Whether a weight-loss goal is realistic depends on a lot of factors — there’s a great summary here.

2. How can I do it?

Considering the steps we could take before we start helps us feel like change is doable. With our weight-loss example, we could:

… hire a trainer or coach
… take a walk at lunch-time each day
… eat a salad for dinner twice a week

3. Why? What are my best reasons for change?

This question taps into our true motivations, ensuring that our goals line up with our values. For example, we may wish to lose weight to:

… keep up with our kids
… manage a health condition
… have more energy on the golf course

4. How important is it?

This question helps us explore the urgency of our need for change. When we think about our weight-loss example, we might feel the need to:

… lose weight immediately
… lose weight before the summer
… lose weight before we have to start taking medications

Starting with self-compassion and a few questions prepares us to take steps toward change and make a commitment to our goals. Which makes for a promising start to a new year, don’t you think?

Photo credit: Adobe, kieferpix.