Do you have trouble keeping New Year resolutions?

Life is what happens when you’re busy making (and breaking) New Year resolutions — with apologies to John Lennon.

How would you like to make and keep your New Year resolutions this year and make your intimate relationship stronger?

Here’s the secret

First of all, you need to do this with a partner. And the more committed you are to each other’s success and happiness, and the more you wouldn’t want to disappoint them, the better.

Then say to your partner, “I’d like your help with keeping my New Year resolutions this year. (If they’re committed to your happiness and success, they’ll agree.) Your respect and esteem for me means a lot. As a result, you’re someone I wouldn’t want to make a commitment or promise to and then flake out. What I’d like to do is imagine it is Jan. 1, 2016, and as I look out at my life including my health, my job, my family, my friends and especially our relationship, I want to imagine saying to myself and to you, ‘It’s as good as it can get.’ You can also feel free to weigh in what you think would help me in all those areas. Then I’m going to write down what I see and share it with you and then think of the first step toward it, starting today. Then going forward, every night before I go to bed I’m going to write down, ‘What can I get done by the end of tomorrow to stay on track to keeping my commitment to those resolutions and you?’ Now here’s where you come in and where I’d like your help. If you’re willing, I’d like you to send me a text or email on the last day of each month asking me, ‘How are you doing with regard to your resolutions?'”

You may tell that other person that you’d be happy to return the favor if there is something that they would like to resolve to do, but let that be their choice.

Why it works

One of the reasons this may work for you is that when it comes to making resolutions, the majority of people have a reverse cognitive bias instead of a forward cognitive bias.

A forward cognitive bias means you can see clearly into the future and see the day-to-day steps you’ll need to take to make it happen. When you ask people with a forward cognitive bias what their goals for the year are, they have no problem in spelling them out. They have a much better chance of keeping New Year resolutions.

A reverse cognitive bias means that you tend to wait for things to happen and then react to them. One common example is that instead of being clear about choosing a place to eat with your partner, you get into a mini-disagreement, and then after you go to the place and eat there, you react by saying it was good or bad, expensive or cheap, etc. People with a reverse cognitive bias have trouble seeing into the future and become confused by the word “goal.” And when they pick one, they have trouble sticking to it. They have problems keeping New Year resolutions.

Why imagining it is Jan. 1, 2016, and imagining life is “as good as it gets” works is that most people, including those with a reverse cognitive bias, will be able to see that more clearly than trying to figure out what their goals are.

And why partnering with someone whose respect and esteem matter to you to hold you accountable works, is that you may not get too upset when you disappoint yourself, but you’ll get very upset if you disappoint that person (even though they’re not as likely to be as hard on you).

In fact, I’m guessing that if the above makes you nervous, it’s because you don’t have confidence in your being able to resist temptation and impulses and distractions in order to keep your resolutions, and are nervous about disappointing that other person.

If that is the case, one additional tip you might find helpful is to think of drawing a line in your mind between the past and the present. Then say to yourself, “Up until now, I have not been able to keep New Year resolutions. But starting now, one day at a time and one resolution at a time, I will.”

Happy New Year, and good luck.

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© Copyright 2014 Mark Goulston, M.D., All rights Reserved.
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Mark Goulston, M.D. is a business advisor, consultant, speaker, trainer and coach trained as a clinical psychiatrist who honed his skills as an FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer who increases people’s ability to get through to anyone. He is Co- Founder of Heartfelt Leadership whose Mission is: Daring to Care and Go Positive Now and is the Resident Big Brother at Business Women Rising and serves on the Board of Advisers of American Women Veterans and Dr. Oz’ foundation, Health Corps. He is the author of international best selling book, “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone (AMACOM, $24.95) which has reached #1 at amazon kindle in six business categories, #1 in China and Germany , #1 in audible audiobooks and has been translated into fourteen languages. Dr. Goulston and his book was also a PBS special entitled “Just Listen with Dr. Mark Goulston.” His next book, REAL INFLUENCE: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, co-authored with Dr. John Ullment will be the lead book for the American Management Association in January, 2013 and will focus on influencing people in a post-selling world. Dr. Goulston’s development of those skills started with his education: a B.A. from UC Berkeley, an M.D. from Boston University, post graduate residency in psychiatry at UCLA. He went on to be a professor at UCLA’s internationally renowned Neuropsychiatric Institute for more than twenty years, become a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and was named one of America’s Top Psychiatrists for 2004-2005 and again in 2009 and 2011 by Washington, D.C. based Consumers’ Research Council of America. A partial list of companies, organizations and universities he has trained, spoken to, provided executive coaching to or consulted with include: GE, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Xerox, Deutsche Bank, Hyatt, Accenture, Astra Zenica, British Airways, Sodexo, ESPN, Kodak, Federal Express, YPO, YPOWPO India, Association for Corporate Growth, FBI, Los Angeles District Attorney, White & Case, Seyfarth Shaw, UCLA Anderson School of Management, USC, Pepperdine University. He is or has been a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors and the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches and is the best selling author of four prior books including the international best seller, Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior (Perigee, $13.95) Get Out of Your Own Way at Work…and Help Others Do the Same (Perigee, $14.95), is a contributor to Harvard Business, blogs for the Huffington Post, Business Insider writes the Tribune media syndicated column, Solve Anything with Dr. Mark, column on leadership for FAST COMPANY, Directors Monthly. He is frequently called upon to share his expertise with regard to contemporary business, national and world news by television, radio and print media including: Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, Los Angeles Times, ABC/NBC/CBS/Fox/CNN/BBC News, Oprah, Today. Dr. Goulston lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.