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Why do we make and break New Year's Resolutions? 

Interview with Adrianne Brennan from the LSU Health Sciences Center

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Enjoy the holidays, because New Year's Day is just around the corner, and the guilt will come creeping in, making us feel it's time for a metamorphosis — and a New Year's resolution. Instead of attempting massive transformations, try setting small, measurable goals. Like those mouthwatering platters of Christmas confections, New Year's resolutions can be alluring, so there will always be a temptation to go too far. But as Adrianne Brennan, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the LSU Health Sciences Center's School of Medicine, explains, a resolution to make a small improvement is more likely to succeed than one attempting a lifetime's worth of change.

Q: Why do people make these resolutions?

A: For the fresh start, and having a clean slate, being able to say, "This year, I'm going to be this," or "This will be the year of me."

Q: Some people are really interested in a complete renovation?

A: Sometimes, yeah, and sometimes people get caught biting off more than they can chew, which is a reason New Year's resolutions often fail.

Q: What are some of the most common resolutions?

A: In my experience, we see a lot of, "I'm going to stop smoking," "I'm going to diet," "I'm going to exercise more," or "'I'm going to spend less money."

Q: Do you think resolutions are a positive thing?

A: They can be, especially for those of us who are successful with them. It can really be something that's life-changing and builds us up and our sense of belief that we can actually do it.

Q: Downside?

A: The downside is that most fail within 48 hours. Often we bite off more than we can chew, and we make them too vague: This year I'm going to exercise more. It's harder if we don't have a way to measure that success. Does that mean I'm going to exercise two hours a day, seven days a week? And is that really likely? Is that really possible?

Q: Most of the time our resolutions fail?

A: I think we have good intentions, and it's not that we're not trying; it's just that we often fall off track.

Q: What advice can you give to assist people in succeeding with their resolutions?

A: Be realistic. Just because something seems like it's likely to happen or it would be reasonable to say; "I should be able to lose weight," "I should be able to stop smoking," or "I should be able to spend less." Is that really likely? Can we really handle that much change in our lives? So being realistic helps. Also, make specific goals. Instead of exercising more, say, "I will walk 2 miles, three times a week." That's something we can cross off of our "to do" list. Oftentimes it helps if we have a buddy, someone to hold us accountable.

Q: Holding them accountable, or joining them?

A: Both. Joining them and then knowing that you could be letting your buddy down if you slip. Someone to enjoy the reward and also to share moments of weakness that can motivate you to get back on track. Just because you fall off doesn't mean you have to give up. Really commit to it. Start over every day if you have to. One of the keys to the most successful New Year's resolutions is seeing how this behavior change fits into your life values. If you don't want to be a parent or a grandparent who is a smoker, then holding that picture (of a nonsmoker) in your mind helps you during the rough moments.

Q: Do you have to wait for New Year's?

A: No. In fact, most of the research shows that to change behaviors, do it a little bit at a time throughout the year. That's where we really see big changes happening, in little bits.

Q: Do people sometimes use an upcoming resolution as an excuse to overindulge during the holidays?

A: Absolutely. It does help us to rationalize overindulging over the holidays. It's like that fresh start because the diet starts on Monday, so I'll eat the cold pizza tonight.

Q: I think I've said that.

A: Me too. It's something we all do.

Q: Do you make New Year's resolutions?

A: I do. My success varies. I'm certainly one of those to start a diet, fresh and clean, and try to change everything. We all fall for the trap that we'll be able to do it all. But it really becomes too unattainable, so if we keep it small it will become possible. It's hard, but I've been successful. I've been able to exercise more, three times a week. Putting myself on a schedule has helped.

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