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Dr. Michael Brustein

From the Newsletter: Checking in on New Year's Resolutions

Tips on setting and keeping New Year's resolutions from a clinical psychologist.Published: January 28, 2019

It’s that time when the resolutions we set so zealously on January 1st are beginning to lose their luster. Kale and celery add a nice pop of color to your fridge, but the green juice you glug down each morning is less than thrilling. You can touch your toes now thanks to that yoga membership, but the instructor’s constant admonitions to “find your joy” make you want to find the door.

If it’s true that only eight percent of people actually stick to their resolutions, what’s the point in even making them? I called up Dr. Michael Brustein, a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety, depression, and perfectionism, to unpack this resolutions debate. Read on for why he believes in them, plus tips for setting reasonable goals.


1. First of all, do you believe in New Year’s resolutions?

Yes, they’re definitely helpful, even though they don’t always work. They are getting you closer to action. They are contemplation. The transtheoretical model of change explains how setting a resolution is a preparation phase. For action to occur, you have to first get your resources together. And a resolution does that.

2. What is the number one mistake people make when setting a resolution?

The biggest struggle is that people abandon it and they don’t get back up. When people fail, they totally throw everything out. They make a global attribution and say, “Just forget it,” because they feel so disappointed and ashamed.

3. Say you do fail. How can you get back up on the proverbial horse?

Look at falling short as an opportunity to learn. Do an inventory of what got in the way, and then put what went wrong in perspective. There needs to be some level of self-compassion. Be kind to yourself.

4. What does a realistic resolution look like?

  • Consider your bandwidth. Can you fit it into your schedule?
  • Assess how motivated you are. Is it coinciding with something you really want? If it doesn’t matter to you, you’re not going to do it.
  • Project a longer-than-expected timeline. Recognize that something you’re planning to achieve will take 20 to 30 percent longer than you think it will.
  • List the top five things that could derail you, and come up with a plan of action for them. There are always micro rejections and micro failures that people become stuck in. Confront them and move forward.
  • Create sub-goals. Goals within goals feel like small victories and are reinforcing.

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