The promise of a new year prompts us to clean the slate and make the next 365 days better than the last.
However, when you get down to it, the New Year resolutions ritual is essentially an enhanced to-do list. It's no wonder we disappoint ourselves when few or none of those things committed to paper don't get checked off.
On the other hand, if we look at resolutions for what they should be -- promises we make to ourselves -- we have to recognize that effort is required to get that job, lose those extra pounds or attract a mate.
If we expect the people we love to take the proper steps to fulfill a promise, this means we have to do that for ourselves as well.
"I am not a big fan of New Year's resolutions," affirms Dr. Robert Sterling, a psychologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
"While the New Year is an obvious time to draw that line in the sand, I hate to think people are limiting their capacity to make positive changes to one day a year."
After all, he adds, "this desire to make a significant behavioral change should be available to somebody any time of year, whenever he or she is ready. We should look at every day as New Year's Day, because each day presents a new opportunity to take stock of one's life."
Though Sterling cites resolution-making efforts that date back to the Roman era, he makes it clear modern-day practitioners are better served taking their objectives one step at a time.
"It is much better to set realistic, meaningful goals so you experience some degree of success, and that success will build upon itself," Sterling advises.
"This is how real behavioral change occurs. Reversing bad habits and addictions is a process, not a switch you can just turn on and off."
"Making resolutions is a fall activity for many Jews during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur," says Dr. David Hahn, psychiatrist at the Philadelphia-based Renfrew Center, which addresses different forms of eating disorders.
"With the arrival of the secular New Year, some Jews may want to use the opportunity to reflect on how they are doing with resolutions they made during the High Holidays and make whatever adjustments are needed."
Like Sterling, Hahn observes that keeping goals smaller will produce the greatest success: "A person making a resolution should first determine a manageable first step toward a goal that is health-driven. By keeping things simple, change will be more likely to stick.
"If you over-exercise," he says, "make a resolution to exercise two fewer days a week. If you under-exercise, make a resolution to walk with a trusted friend two or three days a week, as her presence will motivate you."
Northern California-based wellness coach Amy Wheeler (who coaches clients nationwide via Skype) offers a highly organized approach to resolution making.
Wheeler notes that while making a resolutions laundry list is a common practice, time is better spent with confining the number of resolutions to three that can be accomplished in a year.
Each resolution, when planned within her "Wellness Nexus" model, is a lifestyle change developed over the course of four months. The results will endure if a step-by-step approach is taken, she emphasizes.
Wheeler further explains that deciding what resolutions, or goals, to focus on are prioritized-based on assessing one's values, core beliefs and health needs.
"Realizing a goal may require letting go of something that gives you comfort currently," says Wheeler. "The more you are willing to let go of, the bigger the change that is possible."
However, the most important element of resolution-building is realizing there needs to be "juice" within those goals, she says. In other words, those goals need to stir up feelings of passion to bring about change.
Once a person has ranked his goals, she continues, he starts with the one resolution that will make a difference in many areas simultaneously. For example, if a person resolves to make a career change, he would make a list of steps needed to achieve this, ranging from updating a resume to joining a job networking club or attending computer classes that may increase employability.
If the goal is to get fit, it never hurts to get an assist from an outside expert (or two or three), notes Wheeler, who says she believes people cannot do everything on their own. Companies like Paleta (www.paleta.com ) and LIFE (Live In Fitness Enterprises; www.liveinfitness.com ) have gotten national press for their interactive methods of translating health goals into learned habits.
"Achieving several goals with one strategy is the key to sticking with the goals" set, Wheeler affirms: Don't just promise yourself something and wait for things to magically change, she advises.
Just do it!