How can I make New Year's resolutions stick?

Three experts share ideas to help you achieve your New Year's resolutions by using techniques such as hypnosis, being realistic and forgiving yourself for past mistakes.

Clinical hypnotherapist

Katherine Zimmerman, CHT, director, California Hypnotherapy Academy, Sacramento, Calif.

People tend to make resolutions in January because they want to let go of things from the past year. But resolutions don't stick when you try to make the change through willpower, which often conflicts with subconscious desires. Self-hypnosis is an effective way to break through that subconscious voice. Essentially, hypnosis is a trancelike state that helps you focus and gain control over certain subconscious behaviors, emotions, or physical conditions. In addition to helping send new positive messages to the subconscious, hypnosis can help you overcome fears or phobias and boost self-esteem. [It's also been shown to help people quit smoking.]

Here's how to do it: Listen to a hypnosis recording once a day for seven consecutive days. Once you have memorized the first five lines, repeat them to yourself over and over, and you should be able to take yourself into a state of light hypnosis. In hypnosis, you'll feel relaxed and sleepy, and your arms and legs might feel heavy. [Because you're still aware of what's going on around you,] you can revive yourself in 15 to 30 minutes. Another way to self-hypnotize is to read a list of positive statements three times right before bedtime. Your subconscious will spend the sleeping hours working on manifesting those positive things.

Life coach

Pauline Wallin, PhD, Camp Hill, Pa.

People make resolutions because they want to create change in their lives. The challenge comes about a week and a half later when the cravings set in. Then you get this conflict between short-term gratification (that pie looks really good now) and long-term benefits (weight loss). So how do you counterbalance that? First, control your environment — don't bring temptations into the house that will derail your resolution, and avoid going to places where you'll be tempted. Second, change the way you talk to yourself. Instead of saying “this is too hard,” say, “It's supposed to be hard when making a change.” By doing that, you reinterpret the discomfort and remind yourself why you're doing this work. And tell yourself that the new behavior is non-negotiable — no bargaining with yourself to let it slide “just this once.”

You also need to manage your impulses. When you feel a craving coming on, redirect your attention for 15 minutes to something else to take power away from the craving.

Keeping resolutions really comes down to habit change and being realistic — focus on staying with the program every day. This means committing to habit change that you can live with, which is easier if you start small; small changes add up and might stick better than huge ones.

Integrative psychologist

Matthew B. James, PhD, president, The Empowerment Partnership, American Pacific University, Honolulu

When you resolve to do anything, the goal needs to be specific, meaningful, and positive for you. I teach huna — an ancient Hawaiian practice that encourages spiritual, mental, and physical flexibility — which says that before you make any major life change, you must let go of your emotional baggage and forgive yourself for not having done it earlier.

When you set a new goal, always make sure that you're going to have time to achieve the goal and that it's timed right in your life. Can you give appropriate attention to the goal based on the resources you have? You have to think about how it's going to affect the other areas of your life and accept that you're going to hit obstacles, which are actually good things. An obstacle is a mile-marker that tells you that you're on the right path. When you hit an obstacle, celebrate because you're getting closer to your goal and know more about the journey of reaching it.

Along the way, you might need to make a course correction. For example, maybe you feel like you've hit an obstacle because your weight loss has plateaued; if so, it may be time to try a different workout method to get results. The person who is the most flexible will be able to get around obstacles without difficulty.

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