Is it true resolutions don't work?

All around us are stories of people whose lives were heading down a bad path, a self-destructive path, and who then made a U-turn. For some it was sudden and for others it was more gradual. But change is not only possible, it's happening all the time. This is a fact.

Changing our lifestyle actually has two components. The first is an event. That event is a decision. The decision might be to quit smoking, drinking, texting while driving, watching television, or binge-eating. Or it may be to incorporate a new habit into one's life, such as daily exercise, bringing food to shut-ins, or writing every day.

That event, making a resolution, is but a moment in time. Many people mark it with a stake in the ground or a big X on the calendar. In either case, it is only the beginning. Real change is a process. The process takes time and is called "habit formation."

The real battlefield for changing our external behaviors, though, is internal. The battle is a mental one. Mental habits include changing our self-talk and our self-image.

The whole point of the children's story "The Little Engine That Could" was to teach children to believe in their power to complete tasks they originally thought impossible. The technique for that little engine was self-talk. Self-talk, however, must align with self-image. When our self-talk is "I can do this" and our self-image is "I will always be a failure," then we have a problem. That's called cognitive dissonance.

So your first challenge is to change how you see yourself. If your goal is to run the Grandma's Marathon 5K this summer, you have to discard the image of yourself as a couch potato and buy into a new truth that you are a runner. The proof you are a runner will come when you start running three, four, or five days a week. Tell your friends about this goal and then begin your journey by building a habit.

Maybe you're tired of being afraid of the water when you're in a boat with friends. Your self-talk says, "I do not know how to swim." Privately, you're terrified, maybe even ashamed. Wouldn't it be great if you could flip a switch and say with confidence, "I am a swimmer"? Swimming lessons can make this mind change happen. It has happened.

Before you get your hopes up, you need to know what you're up against when you want to build a new habit. According to U.S. News & World Report, 80 percent of all resolutions fail by February. During the honeymoon period, everything seems easy. Then comes the grind when it's not a habit yet but still a decision. During the grind, you will be tempted to give up. Don't. Be tough. You're tougher than you think.

Grandma's Marathon offers a wonderful example for all of us. I know no one who runs it to win. My friends run to finish. You finish by never giving up. You start by saying, "I'm going to do this." And I think you can.

Jeramy Katchuba is the branch executive director at the Duluth Area Family YMCA.

Locations: Downtown YMCA
Category: Healthy Habits