by Tom Mitsoff
If you have already abandoned your New Year's Resolution, you're not
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
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
"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
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
Tom Mitsoff is a daily newspaper editor and syndicated
editorial columnist. His web address is