THE BLOG

So... How's That New Year's Resolution Going?

02/10/2015 06:09 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2015

Ever wondered why you break your New Year's resolutions within days or weeks of starting them? It's probably due to stress. Most of us don't realize that the ways we manage our stress is with what psychologists call maladaptive or counter-productive coping behaviors. These coping behaviors are exactly the type of things we try to quit doing every January. Think about it. Whenever you feel stressed what do you do to feel better?

Most likely you will either:
1. Drink alcohol.
2. Eat some chips or ice cream.
3. Spend money on things you can't afford or don't really need (shopping therapy).
4. Smoke a cigarette.
5. Take recreational drugs.

These are the big five counter-productive coping methods and the reason they are considered maladaptive is pretty obvious. When you consistently manage your stress in any of these ways, eventually you are going to have even more stress and more problems: Whether it's an alcohol problem, weight gain (and the health problems that can lead to), maxed out credit cards, lung cancer or problems with addiction. Whichever way you slice it, it's going to ultimately ADD to your stress.

That's why University of Rhode Island researcher, Dr. James Prochaska, who is probably the world's foremost authority on behavioral change, says in his book Changing for Good, "the #1 reason why people relapse into their old behaviors is stress." Before you try to start a diet, or quit smoking, or give up anything, you should learn how to manage your stress first. Because when push comes to shove, and you start experiencing a little rough sailing in the beginning of February, you're probably going to feel stressed and if you do you are probably going to go right back to your old behaviors.

Michael Roizen, coauthor of the "YOU" series of books with Mehmet Oz, supported this viewpoint when he said at a health conference in Hilton Head NC, "Mike and I waited for the last book in the YOU series to address the subject of stress, but we should have done it first."

The bottom line is you aren't going to change any behavior without learning how to manage your stress first. In his excellent book, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg writes about five men who were all hopeless alcoholics and were given experimental brain surgery to install an electrode in their brains that could literally "switch" off their desire to drink. Even though all the men reported that the switch truly did shut off their desire to drink, when they felt stressed, out of habit, they still reached for alcohol. But when the men learned to manage their stress, the switch worked and they were able to quit drinking altogether. One of the men had been in rehab over 50 times.

Probably the five best ways to manage stress are:

  1. Exercise
  2. Deep breathing
  3. Cognitive restructuring
  4. Mindfulness
  5. Yoga

Start with any one of these behaviors and build your resolutions around these changes first. By learning how to manage stress, the habits you wish to change will be MUCH easier to accomplish. You might look back a year from now and be very pleased that you were able to make and keep your resolution.