Now that the holidays are over, we're all looking to what the new year has in store with a few resolutions in mind to help us make the most of it. "Be kinder to everyone." "Spend less money on useless junk." "Actually write that book/start that business I've been talking about forever."

An interesting trend emerges here: Few people (myself included) have the courage—nay, gall—to actually make specific resolutions, ones with clear guidelines and action plans. Perhaps years of underachieving on these annual commitments has conditioned us all into a pattern of writing down goals that are as vague as possible so that the definition of success is limitless. Of course, these lists are kept private, so no one on the outside gets to see whether we've fulfilled any of the items. We only answer to ourselves, and somehow that makes getting the job done less compelling.

Why is it that when we make promises to ourselves we cut corners and are comfortable falling short of even these limited expectations? We face embarrassment if we fail to follow through on commitments to others, but what happens when we simply let ourselves down? How do we learn to answer to ourselves the same way we would to an outside force?

I had the chance to take a look at my New Year's resolution list from 1995 a few weeks ago (thank goodness for the "time capsule" box I kept as a child...I think I came out of the womb nostalgic) and was shocked by how little had changed in the past 15 years. It got me thinking: Is having to answer to others for our actions the only thing that makes sticking to a resolution compulsory? Is guilt/shame a good (read: productive) motivator?

"Lose a few pounds" was one such perennial offender on my annual resolution list, and it retains a spot (albeit, lower down) even today. I grew up pretty overweight (175 pounds at my heaviest, about 40 pounds more than I should have been carrying on my 5'8" frame), so the scale's movements were always a big focus for me. I remember being upset and embarrassed every time I rewrote this same resolution. Seeing it featured so prominently on my 1995 list reminded me both of these feelings and also of the triumph I now feel after having lost the weight. This resolution now appears on my yearly list more as a reminder of my success and a reaffirmation of my commitment (to myself) than anything else.

Learn the two things that can make a difference in keeping the weight off.


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