Resolve to Change

If you have already abandoned your New Year’s Resolution, you’re not alone.

Research shows that while people are well-meaning when they make resolutions — almost always targeted at self-improvement — they often set themselves up for failure by committing themselves to too much change too quickly. Then, when the desired changes such as weight loss or quitting smoking don’t occur immediately, people get discouraged and revert to what is familiar.

The exact origin of the New Year’s Resolution is unclear, but certainly it began with someone who decided that the arrival of a new year was a good occasion to commit to a positive change in his or her life. The most common New Year’s Resolutions involve quitting smoking, losing weight, getting out of debt, exercising more — making changes in one’s lifestyle.

But, a nationwide survey conducted by AT&T WorldNet Service found that though 35 percent of Americans made New Year’s resolutions in 1998, less than one-third of those people kept them through the end of the year. At that rate, about one out of 10 Americans will be able to say he or she made and successfully completed a New Year’s Resolution in 2002.

Why the relatively low success rate? One would think that everyone who makes a resolution would have the motivation to see it through. Of course, most people have that desire. But what holds them back is the fear of change.

Many experts in human behavior say that the prospect of change immediately elicits unrest, and even fear and avoidance reactions. Each of us lives in a particular comfort zone that we’ve created for ourselves. Even if it is painful or messy, some of us prefer staying in it, rather than dealing with expansion of that zone. Although it can be rather uncomfortable and scary, it is the key to real growth, experts say.

“We would rather stay with what we know, with what is safe, even if it is making us unhappy,” writes management author and educator Jane Greene. “The irony is that we can’t stop change. Time passes, seasons change, we grow older; we can’t help it.

“Life is change. We may think that by doing nothing things will stay as they are, but we know this is not true,” Greene writes. “Perhaps it is that fear, of things changing without our consent, that makes us cling on to jobs we don’t like, relationships that we know have grown stale, or habits that don’t make us happy but at least are familiar.”

Almost synonymous with the fear of change is the fear of failure, according to Lisa Sidorowicz, a practitioner of “Core Belief Engineering.”

Many people feel worried and anxious when they even think of undertaking new challenges because they doubt their abilities, their intelligence, their self-worth, or their capacity to overcome obstacles that may arise, she writes. They fear not measuring up, making a mistake, and being judged and humiliated. Conversely, when self-worth is strong, fear may still exist, but it no longer has the power to destabilize forward movement, she writes.

So is it any wonder that so many of our resolutions dwindle or fail? We are making commitments to change, often without realizing how much our inner self wants to avoid it. Therefore, when you successfully complete a resolution or any intentional change in your lifestyle, you have reason to feel pride in your accomplishment.

If your resolution has already fallen by the wayside, it’s early enough in the year to recommit with the added knowledge that you’ll have to be ready to face and embrace the change that your human nature steers you to avoid.

Mr. Tom Mitsoff is a daily newspaper editor and syndicated editorial columnist. His web address is