Enjoying the 4th of July fireworks at Grandma and Grandpa's house on Monday, July 3, 2017 (Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

Go to any gym this month and it will be packed, but if you return a few months later, it will basically be a ghost town. Broken New Year’s resolutions can be to blame, because every year we follow tradition and make a new one to break, again. Better planning may be the answer to a resolution you can finally keep.

Lisa G. Aspinwall, chair of the department of psychology at the University of Utah, starts the new year with a New Year’s resolution assignment in one class she teaches, called “The Social Psychology of Health and Illness.”

“People set a goal and then write about what happens to it,” Aspinwall said.

Most students abandon their resolution by about week three, and she actually can’t recall anyone who has been successful. When Aspinwall grades papers, she sees some common themes.

“Usually it is some work stress or interpersonal stress that derails people,” Aspinwall said. “In the research literature, it is also that people don’t have a plan for what happens if they get knocked off track.”

One factor Aspinwall talks about is “pre-deciding.”  Let’s say you have decided you want to lose weight this year, a common resolution, but if that is all you’ve decided, you are bound to fail. Having a plan, such as when someone offers you cake at a birthday party you decline, will positively affect your outcome of succeeding. At the same time, if you say yes to the piece of cake, you can get back on your diet tomorrow. However, people tend to just throw it all away instead.

“So you have what’s called a lapse, a momentary slip in what you are trying to do, and it turns into full blown relapse,” Aspinwall said.

Cut yourself some slack and keep trying.

Aspinwall also suggested looking at your patterns and behaviors. If you are tired after work and know you won’t go on a walk when you get home, but you really want to be healthier, try parking further away to make yourself walk after work despite how tired you are. Opting for the stairs any chance you get is another suggestion Aspinwall offered. With tall buildings, like the Behavioral Science Tower Aspinwall is in, and the frustrating parking situation on campus, implementing these tips shouldn’t be too hard.

The most common New Year’s resolutions involve what Aspinwall called, “behaviors that serve more than one purpose.”

“If every behavior only had to do with our good health, we’d all be perfect,” Aspinwall said. “The problem is these behaviors, whether it’s smoking or eating tasty fattening foods, they serve other functions. Usually stress reduction.”

Hence why planning ahead with methods like pre-deciding can help.

“It’s a technique called implementation intentions,” Aspinwall said.

At first, she thought this sounded so simple, but sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to do.

Interpersonal stress is a main reason why resolutions get broken or abandoned, and interpersonal relationships also add to the chances of succeeding, too. Holding yourself accountable should be the first thing you do, and friends can offer the perfect stress release.

Plan ahead and find people who have similar resolutions, and if you have a lapse, don’t give up. Make 2018 the year you actually achieve your goal.

h.vasic@dailyutahchronicle.com

@HollyVasic

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