It is January 6 as I am composing the first newsletter of the year. My readers will likely not receive or get to it for a few more days. By then, most of you will have done one (or two) of the following:

1. Made New Year’s resolution(s)
2. Broken #1
3. Not made any resolutions in the recognition that you invariably do #2.

So today’s message will encourage you to improve your personal batting average with #1. Let’s examine reasons for our dismal failure on this topic in the past. To do so, let’s remind ourselves of the basic message of the redoubtable “snowman.”

As regular readers know by now, the core concept from the Snowman is that our thoughts and beliefs determine our actions and, therefore, our life’s path. Simply put, all of our successes (or failures) flow from basic ideas that we have about others and ourselves.

So let’s go back to our resolution train-wrecks. First of all, our plans are always sincere. We truly do want to make these life improvements to eat better, exercise more and, hopefully, bite our tongue more often in order to circumvent relationship collisions. We are genuine in our desire for these life course corrections.

But before I lay out guidelines for resolution-outcome improvement, let’s consider our operative belief about our own willpower and level of commitment. A motivational guru once coined, “We can only achieve what the mind can conceive and truly believe.” Yes, it is both catchy and kitschy but, like must clichés, it is founded in truth and accuracy. So, Step One in our re-hauled goal-setting process is to gaze into your metaphorical mirror and ask yourself “Can I truly believe in the goals that I’m about to set for myself? With that in mind, let’ begin the process:

Step One: List your goals, being as realistic (rather than optimistic) as possible

Step Two: Look at Step One and cut both the number of goals and the level of expectation by at least 50%. For example, if your goal was to exercise daily, cut that down to 3 times per week. If you set three or four goals for yourself, trim that number down to one or two.

Step Three: Share your goals with another person who is close to you and will welcome your success. Keeping resolutions secret is an unconscious “parachute” to avoid embarrassment when we fail. Take a risk here!

Step Four: Celebrate your success. If you get yourself to exercise twice a week, how would that feel? And what if you exceeded the plan by working out three our four times weekly? Would that be OK? But see those extra outcomes as “bonuses” rather than a boosting of the goal. Be slow and conservative in increasing your pledges. Those ambitious increases may be a setup for failure.

Step Five: Build in rewards and vacations: But before we explain this Step, let’s consider the following. As an addiction specialist, I have come to understand the nature of relapse. For example, when individuals who struggle with an alcohol problem take a drink, they often revert totally to their previous addictive behavior. For those who suffer from serious addictions, such as drugs, compulsive gambling, or alcohol, there can be no “vacations” from sobriety or recovery. For recovering addicts, “getting back on the horse” after a fall, immediately is essential.

But for those of us who are trying to make less critical life improvements, taking a brief “vacation” can be reinforcing rather than self-defeating. So a monthly “onion ring” may be encouraging rather than a sign of failure. Once again, enjoy the “ring” and get back on the “horse” of healthy living. You intuitively can recognize the difference between a healthy reward and a true relapse.       Homework: Start with Step One!

It always seems impossible until it is done!  Mandela