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New Year’s resolutions can succeed Print
Guest column
Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 -- 12:00 AM


I always seem to have trouble following through with my New Year's resolutions. Why is that? And what can I do to succeed this year?


William T. McKenna, M.S

Pre-Doctoral Resident in Clinical Psychology at Catholic Charities

Every year many of us find ourselves in your shoes.

From losing weight, to reading more, to cutting back on fast food, we all make plans that can be both great and unattainable at the same time.

We do this for a variety of reasons, but we'll save exploration of that part of the human psyche for another time. Instead, let's consider what groundwork should be involved in a successful New Year's resolution.

Planning, outlook, and willpower

The answer is simpler than many would imagine. Resolutions, no matter when they are set, require a positive outlook, proper planning, and some sheer willpower.

Maintaining a positive outlook is vital to achieving our goals along with forming the habits we need to continue moving forward.

In order to better understand why a positive outlook is so important, let us examine how a negative outlook can influence us.

One theory of depression is that it stems from learned helplessness. Learned helplessness posits that eventually people become so discouraged (because they believe they cannot win no matter what they do) that they begin to expect failure in all of their endeavors.

Moreover, people begin to attribute their failures to their identities, e.g., "I cannot achieve anything since I am a failure." Therefore, changing how we view both situations and ourselves will allow us to better handle the inevitable bumps in the road.

In practice, try reminding yourself that you "will" achieve your goal, instead of you "may/might" achieve your goal.

Also, try to focus on achieving your goal one day at a time. That way you do not become overwhelmed, and then negatively focused.

Proper planning

Proper planning is always an essential part of any resolution's success.

For example, if you plan to lose weight, then you need to make the decision whether or not you will join a gym, run outside, or exercise in your home.

Additionally, planning helps you to make the tough choices now while you are emotionally calm and motivated. Such action saves you from having to hope you will have the mental clarity to make the tough calls when in distress.

For instance, if you missed your workout in the morning, you may be tempted to skip that day's exercise altogether.

However, you could set up a rule at the beginning of the year that if you missed your morning workout, you would make sure to go that evening after work. That way there is no ambiguity as to whether or not you can skip that day's workout.

Willpower is important

This now brings us to our last point that sheer will-power is a significant factor in keeping your New Year's resolutions.

While, once again, seemingly simplistic, there is something to be said for putting your head down and just pushing through.

The best way to make sure you follow through on this is to start with small things that you have to push through on, and then work your way up to larger goals.

If you are having trouble with willpower, make sure you take an honest appraisal of your daily actions (perhaps during the Examen at night before retiring).

Be sincere in scrutinizing whether or not your daily actions are helping you achieve your goal, or hindering your objective. For example, if you find yourself late-night snacking, then it would not be smart to include snacks on your grocery list next week. Remember planning and willpower really are tied together.

Remaining positive

In short, the best ways for you to achieve your New Year's resolutions are to remain positive that you can achieve them, plan ahead for the inevitable tug to quit, and remember that sometimes you just have to keep going even when you want to give up.

The great part about these three pillars is that you can use them to form the habits you need for virtues necessary for your state in life.

Once we develop virtues, such as prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, we can be certain that we will be able to tackle and achieve any and all reasonable resolutions.

William T. McKenna, M.S. is a Pre-Doctoral Resident in Clinical Psychology at Catholic Charities with the Diocese of Arlington, Va. He recently completed his coursework for his doctorate at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, now Divine Mercy University. Divine Mercy University offers graduate programs in psychology and counseling, both online and onsite in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Visit for more information.