We’ve all been there: January 1 you woke up, hit the gym, drank plenty of water, got lots of sleep, and gazed down lovingly at your list of New Year’s resolutions, feeling like this year will really be different. But then … it’s not. One month later, you’re back to your old lifestyle and feeling disappointed after letting your list of positive changes fall to the wayside. So, are making New Year’s resolutions even worth it? Is it even possible to make them really stick? Three Los Angeles psychologists share their opinions exclusively with Life & Style.

“From my many years of being a psychologist, I have found that New Year’s resolutions at first tend to be more positive for those people making them since there is an excitement, belief, and hope that they will achieve their resolutions,” explained Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based psychologist at www.yvonnethomasphd.com, whose specialties include self-esteem and relationships. “However, as I’ve seen and also is often reported, less than 25% stick to their New Year’s resolutions after just 30 days. The ironic and sad part about this is that instead of feeling good and proud about oneself for having a resolution and trying to keep it, people can end up feeling demoralized and ashamed for not achieving their resolutions.”

But why do these promises to ourselves end up failing in the first place? “For one thing, people may be unrealistic in setting resolutions which are too hard to meet or not able to be met in the time they expected and allowed for,” Dr. Thomas explained, or “they don’t have enough emotional support from others or enough self-confidence and/or self-discipline to stay on track until their resolution is attained.”

Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D., author of Bouncing Back from Rejection, agrees that going in without a specific plan is the No. 1 reason people don’t keep resolutions. “How well New Year’s resolutions work depends on how you approach them, no matter what the actual resolution is,” she said. “If you make them more like how you make a wish, they will be as likely to appear as that winning lottery ticket you keep hoping will just materialize.” Dr. Siri Sat Nam warned that trying to make resolutions that don’t actually align with your lifestyle may be to blame for the frequent failure. “Don’t make a resolution that is not completely in your heart — if you do, the chances of manifestation become diminished.”

Despite the pain caused by a failed resolution, all three psychologists think they can still be worth making … if you do them right! That can start with choosing resolutions that are both positive and realistic. “Some more positive types of resolutions to make are those which have the likelihood of being achievable, first and foremost which, as a direct result, will reinforce the confidence and self-discipline to stay committed to one’s resolutions,” suggested Dr. Thomas. She starts by making step-by-step plans with clients and coming up with realistic timelines to achieve their goals. “By doing both these actions, some of the emotions (i.e., feeling anxious, stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, demoralized, etc.) which can interfere with or stop the person from continuing with his or her resolution, can be decreased.”

New Year's resolutions

Dr. Becker-Phelps had similar suggestions. “If you follow up your resolution with setting specific and realistic goals, developing a workable plan to attain those goals, and preparing yourself for setbacks, then you will be well on your way to achieving that resolution,” she insisted.

“It is about being in alignment,” Dr. Sat Nam explained of how to make successful goals. “The magic happens in that unique time and space where the mind, the heart and the soul are in harmony. And when this occurs, impossibility can flow into possibility. Don’t stop dreaming. Don’t hold back the vision of what you’d like to happen in your life.” He suggested that it’s important to be all in with resolutions, not just making them because you think you should.

So, rather than making a vague goal, like “get in shape this year,” or a difficult-to-attain goal, like “lose 50 pounds this year,” come up with a specific exercise and diet plan, and aim for three pounds per month. The point is to make promises to yourself that you can actually keep, and not to get down on yourself if you backtrack a bit.

The docs insist there’s major value in positive reinforcement, external support from friends and family, and taking time to recognize and celebrate your victories, but what about when you do hit setbacks? “It is very important to eliminate perfectionistic thinking or an all-or-nothing attitude about how one handles his or her resolution,” Dr. Thomas said. “Do not give up if you backslide or get off track from your game plan. If necessary, meeting with a psychologist to help you determine if you are sabotaging yourself or don’t feel deserving of your New Year’s resolutions can be invaluable in breaking negative patterns and allowing for better things in your life.” Now that you have the tools to make healthy, positive resolutions, what do you want to achieve this year? Let us know in the comments!