Want To Keep New Year's Resolutions? Consider The Consequences Of Failing

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Want To Keep New Year's Resolutions? Consider The Consequences Of Failing

The resolutions to make ourselves better at what we're passionate about take discipline, too. (Representational Image)

The New Year's resolutions are still new. And a cynic - or a realist, given past performance - might say many of them will be broken by spring, if not sooner.

Even so, the resolutions return every year, particularly the big three: getting in shape, becoming better at work and improving our financial lives.

All three have something else in common: There are financial and economic consequences when someone fails to keep them, just as surely as there are financial and economic benefits to success. And people who can tie their resolutions to real consequences, psychologists, doctors and even health club owners say, have the best chance of success.

"People typically succeed because their 'why' is bigger than their 'but,'" said Elizabeth Lombardo, a wealth psychologist in Chicago.

As an example, she said, "I want to work out, but I have no time."

Getting past the "but" is not easy. That's why so many of the resolutions fail. To succeed, the resolution makers are going to need a combination of more help, lower expectations and bigger consequences than most imagine.

Diets And Exercise

Steve Stanulis, an actor, playwright and retired New York City police officer, needs to lose 30 pounds for work. Weight loss, not surprisingly, is a common resolution.

But for Stanulis, failing to lose the weight would result in an embarrassing artistic and financial failure for the revival of a play he's in this spring about a male stripper.

"The problem is the last time we did that play was in Las Vegas in 2013," he said. "I'm 42 now. I have three kids. I'll be the one who looks ridiculous being fat and 40 up there."

Still, Stanulis, who once owned a gym on Staten Island, is aware of how tough any self-improvement resolution can be.

"Most people give themselves unattainable resolutions," he said. "As a gym owner, you'd have people come in and say, 'I smoke two packs a day. Last night, on New Year's Eve we went out with a bang and I smoked six packs. I've decided I'm quitting smoking.' That lasts for a hot minute."

He used to counsel people to try cutting their smoking habit in half. And for himself, he has done something similar: Instead of going on a strict diet, he went to a doctor who uses data to show people how what they eat affects them medically.

When it comes to a fitness goal, the mindset is slightly different.

James O'Connor, 44, who lives in Far Hills, New Jersey, and works in asset management, said that after the wear and tear of decades of commuting and working, he had committed to doing his second Ironman Triathlon in November 2016.

For him, there are certainly financial costs. It cost $700 to enter the Ironman in Tempe, Arizona, and travel costs will be much more.

He plans to do two half-Ironman Triathlons for training. And then there is the gear needed to train and compete in events that encompass swimming, biking and running. He estimated that cost at more than $1,000.

But those expenses are not O'Connor's primary concern. What motivates him are the larger costs, in economic terms, of what he will miss this year. He got his work colleagues and his family to sign off on his participation since they will see him less. He also enlisted a friend to train with him and committed to raising money for charity so he will not be doing the Ironman solely for himself.

"The Ironman is a very selfish race," he said. "It's a huge amount of personal commitment. The more people who are part of it, the less selfish it seems."

Keeping in mind what he is sacrificing to accomplish his resolution will, he said, keep him on track.

As for the quicker way to self-improvement, January and February are usually big months for many types of plastic surgery, said Robert Grant, a plastic surgeon in New York.

The financial costs - rarely, if ever, covered by insurance - range widely. Injectable treatments like Botox are generally less than $1,000 but they need to be repeated periodically. Face-lifts usually cost $10,000 to $20,000. Then, there are the costs of time to recover, from weeks to several months.

Yet Grant said he sometimes counsels patients that their expectations won't be met. Post-holiday liposuction is one such procedure.

"If they've gained 10 to 15 pounds over the holiday and think I can suck it out, it doesn't work that way," he said. "They're better off taking the 10 grand they'd pay me to hire a trainer or use one of those services that deliver three good meals a day."

Being Better

The resolutions to make ourselves better at what we're passionate about take discipline, too.

Richard Kirshenbaum, chief executive of the advertising agency NSG/SWAT, said he wanted to make himself more productive this year. "This past year was really difficult for me," he said. "I ended up having a lot more happen this year, and I was not prepared as well as I could have been."

So he and his longtime assistant came up with the idea of blocking off two hours at some point every week for him to come up with the fresh ideas that every advertising agency needs. But they took it a step further: Kirshenbaum, 54, would have his driver take him to a restaurant and keep his cellphone in the car; only his assistant would know where he was, and she would have the sole authority to decide whether to have the driver interrupt him.

"After all these years in the business, I am very efficient with my time," he said. "If I can have two hours, I can get a lot done."

Time is an issue, too, for Leslie Kirby, a technology consultant to financial services firms and the co-founder of Wall Street Rocks, a small nonprofit group that aims to help veterans. She said she had long wanted to visit some of the people the organization had helped and also to meet the leaders of new organizations it wanted to fund.

So after years of pushing off these trips because she was busy with work, she picked a couple of weeks in February and booked a trip that will take her to Texas, Virginia and Minnesota. "I want to understand some of these folks and the trouble they're having," she said. "I want to go out and see what we do."

In both cases, Kirshenbaum and Kirby realized that failing to commit the time to their goals would mean they were not as effective as they could be. To keep them from making up excuses, they made the commitment in their calendars.

Financial Changes

As to financial resolutions, Fidelity Investments, the mutual fund company, released what it called its seventh annual "financial resolutions study." It found that money resolutions had increased.

The survey found that 37 percent of respondents intended to make a financial resolution this year, up from 31 percent last year. One reason for the increase, the report said, was a feeling of economic uncertainty.

While saving more topped the list - with more than half of respondents resolving to do so - the percentage of people who said they were going to pay off credit card debt was at its highest point since the company started the survey in 2009.

These types of resolutions would seem to require a steely pragmatism. But there are ways of automating that financial resolution, whether it's saving or paying down debt, that can help people stick to their plan.

Whatever the resolution, said Lombardo, the wealth psychologist, doing it for a month or so under normal conditions can generally get it to stick. But maintaining normal conditions can be tough.

"When stress happens, we have to take care of that, and it can take you away from that resolution," she said. "It's why people who quit smoking for 10 years go back to it when something stressful comes up."

Instead, she said, people should analyze their failures and try again.

"It's data," she said. "Research has shown it takes someone seven times to quit smoking. But each time you go back to it, you should say, 'What was the ingredient that contributed to me going off the wagon? I had a tough day, I had a drink, I was exhausted.'"

So good luck this year, and if you fail, better luck in 2017.
© 2016, The New York Times News Service


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