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Psychologist offers tips for making meaningful New Year's resolutions

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It’s the time of the year to make – or break – New Year’s resolutions. Many who try to commit to a change at the start of a new year lose touch with the goal within the first month or two.

Dr. Natalie Scanlon, a clinical psychologist with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said part of setting these commitments and keeping them starts with acknowledging your personal core principles.

“I think lately, there's been somewhat of a movement away from resolutions. And I'm not sure if that's because people haven't felt successful with setting resolutions in the past,” Scanlon said. “Ultimately, I think reconnecting with our value system is the first thing that I would prescribe when trying to set either a New Year's intention or New Year's resolutions.”

Many have tried to compartmentalize the things that need attention in life into certain value domains like physical fitness, financial responsibility or social and family relationships, and the first inclination can draw us to want to address every part. Scanlon said it’s important to think about balance.

“I think in our world of 2023, we are pulled in so many different directions,” Scanlon said. “And there are so many different things vying for our attention, that I think when people kind of look at their value system and start to set some goals, realize that you likely won't be able to set all the goals that in theory are important to you. Then, it just becomes a matter of prioritizing.”

When those priorities are set, Scanlon said the next important step is following a framework for these goals.

“I think when we start with really general goals that aren’t specific, or we don't have kind of mini goals as part of those larger goals, that's where people can kind of fall off the rails and not be successful,” Scanlon said.

According to Statista, the most popular resolutions going into 2023 revolve around physical health: exercising more, eating better and losing weight. Scanlon said whatever the intention is, change is hard.

“Maybe have some visual reminders around your home or your work to point you back to your value,” Scanlon said. “And so if, for example, exercise goals are something that a person strives for, maybe just having a healthy, helpful visual reminder of good nutrition, or what their health looks like, and then just being able to remind yourself of that in those moments of temptation can kind of keep you on track.”

When people feel like they fall short on these goals, Scanlon offered some suggestions like reevaluating whether the goal is coming from a place of value, or if its driven by pressure from someone else or social media. She said the important thing to remember is life changes that last are often about progress, not perfection.

Sarah Self-Walbrick contributed to this story.