How to make, and reach, 2007 goals

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

So, New Year's weekender, we hear that you boldly resolved to make some personal changes for 2007.

Why not? Resolutionmaking is one of those exercises that lets you answer to yourself. No one understands you as you do. And you can always let yourself slide; wait until next year. (As you said last year?)

Somewhere between 45 percent and two-thirds of well-intentioned adult Americans make some form of New Year's resolutions, according to reports. By the end of six months more than half have lost the handle, says one from the University of Scranton in Philadelphia.

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"Change is hard," says Jeff Reese, professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University in Texas and coauthor, with Robert McKelvain, of the forthcoming book "How to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions."

Other resolvers notch achievements. At this time of year those people are simply – not smugly, we hope – buckling in for another round of betterment as the old temporal odometer cycles past 1/1 again.

"People love new beginnings," says Professor Reese, "we love second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances. The thing that we're not very good about is, once we 'fall off the wagon,' what do we do then?"

What we should not do, he says: Write off our resolutions and slink away after a lapse. It's important to anticipate slips, says Reese, and work through them. Also important: How you make them. We know it's after Jan. 1, but this first week represents a grace period, an opportunity to roll out what you might call Resolutions 2.0.

One point many experts make: Be specific. In her online quiz, author M.J. Ryan ("This Year I Will...") asks "[W]hat exactly does 'be a better friend' mean, anyway?"

Reese's chief piece of advice: "Understand your motivation for wanting to set a goal," he says. "People really stumble when they don't have a goal that's intrinsically meaningful to them." He says making a resolution while in a "precontemplative state" – without having really bought into the idea – can be a formula for failure.

Humankind has had time to practice technique. Some historians trace the New Year's resolution back to Janus, the mythical two-faced Roman king who could look back while looking forward. January is his namesake, after all. Others hold that before the Roman calendar, Babylonians came up with the notion.

No matter. We cast around by phone and e-mail for new wrinkles in this story, the ultimate perennial. Plenty of chestnuts and cheery slogans showed up in our in-box. We found ourselves humming "Don't Worry, Be Happy" – actually not a bad soundtrack. We also found some useful, not-too-pat advice in the overlapping feedback.

Herewith, a distillation in five easy pieces, overlaid with a little of what works for us, since we've resolved to be more utility-oriented. Check back after a few months of mindful living and let us know what's working.

Give your year a theme. This one has Chinese- calendar overtones. But we liked the idea, one of several from work-life balance guru Kathleen Hall. She suggests that you consider the year just passed and warm up by anointing it – the Year for Transition, for example. Then name the upcoming one. Try to view your actions through that lens. How about "Conserving"? Author Stephen Shapiro, advancing a similar idea, suggests "service," or "friendship." (Ms. Hall also serves up "attitude of gratitude." We'd add "humility." Works with any theme. Requires no rhyme.)

Talk to yourself ... Life coach Kristin Wehner writes that it's important to "align your personality ticks to the formation of the list." Examples: If you're a tactile person, try a physical representation of your goal (for the aspiring adventurer, a big map of Thailand). If you're a ceaseless doodler, Ms. Wehner suggests that you, well, doodle your goals with connecting arrows and sketches. That one synced up with what brand-communications expert Charly Rok called the "philosophy of imperfect organization" and author B.J. Gallagher's advice to think unconventionally and express yourself "authentically."

... but also look outward. Consider resolutions aimed at altering environments, not just tight, private spheres. Consultant April Callis writes about a workplace group at a client firm that dedicated itself to stopping gossip. Others described conscious moves to counter "toxic" influences. Change should require striving for harmony, by one definition "the just adaptation of parts to each other." You're a part. Harmonize.

Make improvement incidental. Sure, you can join a gym. You can also routinely take the stairs at the shopping mall. Invest in your sleep environment, with natural fibers and sufficient darkness (those last two are from "balance coach" James Rouse). Not to get too micro, but we recommend a digital clock that's a dark-faced LCD, not bright like some miniature Times Square.

Find community. Don't struggle solo. A fresh University of Maryland study finds that more than 62 percent of respondents successfully quit smoking after joining an online support community (it doesn't say what the rate is for go-it-aloners). The website Nike.com is running a celebrity-studded resolution contest. Example: Tennis star Maria Sharapova vows to be LeBron James's "water boy" during an NBA game if she doesn't run more miles than he does during January. (Visitors to the site are invited to log in their own resolutions.) If you're not content to go virtual, let the Internet lead to change-effecting, real-world groups.

Want to make this your year? Maintain an expectation of good, and chew your food. Two shreds of advice any dog owner will affirm. Year of Tail-Wagging? You could do a lot worse.

Happy New Year.

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