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New Year's Re-solutions


What will you do in the context of the 4000 year-old annual tradition of making a New Year's resolution?

It's that time of year again, when scale sales and gym memberships are at their annual peak, personal and family budgets are being created, and other New Year's resolutions are being made (only to be forgotten or even volitionally broken). What will you do in the context of this 4000 year-old annual tradition of making a New Year's resolution? What personal flaw or problem will you try to resolve?

Interestingly, roughly half of Americans set goals at New Year's, and only 8% of people will achieve them. Why do so few people actually reach their goals? Perhaps people set their goals too high or have unrealistic expectations of themselves. Conversely, maybe external influences or events occur that significantly inhibit reasonable goals. While both these scenarios play out, a more common problem with setting self-improvement goals is that there is not a big enough perception of the problem or need to improve relative to continuation of the status quo. (This has been well studied in dieters, so keep this in mind in if you simply just tell your patients to lose weight. We actually have to educate them and coach them on the "why" and "how" rather than just telling them the "what" to do.)

There has to be knowledge, the will and desire to achieve a goal sufficiently reinforced to overcome the "emotional inertia" or "activation energy" needed to develop a new and improved habit. If the internal knowledge and desire is not there, no amount of external influence will overcome our habits or practices we resolve to change or improve. Hence, rather than diligently working towards an actual solution, many of us are comfortable with re-solutions to our re-occurring (or at least yearly-remembered) problems.

Another problem with setting goals (or New Year's resolutions if they start January 1) is that many of us are not in the practice of doing it. And if we aren't used to doing something or good at it, then we aren't going to do it. Rather than stretch ourselves and set goals, many of us face life on cruise control. I know many physicians that did great things getting into medical school, and even during medical school. But after finishing residency or fellowships, they stop making goals, having "reached their potential," and their career just becomes their job, which then becomes just their way to get a paycheck, which then becomes a source of frustration and burn-out.

A wise leader once said, "One's success is relevant only when measured against one's own potential." This New Year's, re-think deeply your potential and then set realistic goals to achieve true success--not what someone else declares as successful, but what you know to be your best success. Happy New Year, and don't ever quit finding solutions and re-solutions in your life!

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice