How many times have we failed after declaring that we will stop or start doing something by way of a New Year’s Resolution? Many.

We succeed in education, medicine, business, politics, sports, or whatever we are good at. But, when it comes to inner focus, instead of outer focus, we fail more than we succeed. But why?

NBC’s Julie Compton recently wrote a piece outlining a new approach to answering the question after speaking with doctors who study human behavior. In general, doctors say we need a plan, not just the same hopeful old resolution.

This plan is similar to laying the groundwork in order to be good at our activities. Examples include business plans, case strategies, teaching outlines, medical treatment agenda, etc.

Compton spoke to John Norcross, a psychology professor at Scranton University, who has tracked and studied resolutions for over 30 years. According to his research, it takes about three months for a change to become routine. After six months, about 40 percent of people will stick to their old resolutions.

If we make it to six months, chances increase that we will break or build a habit for life. But we need an action plan to get there. Here are some ideas from doctors and personal experience that provide the best chance at winning the battle.

DETAILED PLAN – I use Google Calendar. Without it, I would be lost. I also add detailed planning regarding work, exercise, etc. When the plans on the calendar are represented in detail for a while, they become second nature. “A resolution isn’t a wish, it’s not a dream,” Norcross says, “It’s identifiable behavior that you can work on.”

Norcross provides a great example of this: Instead of promising ourselves to lose 60 pounds in a year, plan to lose a few pounds a month, and create a consistent plan on how to do it. Record and track progress. Self-monitoring increases our chances of success.

When it comes to making successful changes, our environment plays a major role. Cues that can trigger our bad habit should be removed from the home, says Ellen Berkman, director of the University of Oregon’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab. Certain rituals can also trigger negative habits, like smoking after a meal. “Identify the times and places and situations where you’re likely to smoke, and then come up with a plan ahead of time to address it,” Berkman says.

Berkman also suggests rearranging our environment to foster the positive change we are creating. For instance, my 2019 plan is to exercise three times a week for the remainder of the year. On January 1, I will put the gym bag or outdoor gear in the front, not back, of my vehicle. As I drive that day, the bag is within reaching distance and visible. It would be difficult to convince myself that I “forgot” to go to the gym that day. Thanks to Cawanna McMichael, I have also found the whiteboard highly effective. Unless in trial, I keep my board in my home office. Today, the board faces me at my work station. The words on it set the organizational planning for each day and the details about my new exercise plan. I could not ignore the whiteboard before I sit down to work on my morning emails even if I wanted to.

Family, friends, and coworkers can be major triggers for bad habits. If there are people in our lives who share our bad habit, contribute to disruption of change, or just have a negative character, its best to just politely explain to them that we are changing a habit and must change routines and places, and sometimes people.

SETBACKS – We can handle a setback in only two ways; (1) stay on the ground and give up or (2) get up, dust ourselves off, and prepare for the next challenge.

Just because we choose to overeat, smoke a cigarette, or make another decision that interferes with our plan does not mean that we are defeated. The process of changing is a series of battles that win or lose a war. We can be defeated in a battle, but the war continues. We are defeated only when we entirely give up on the goal.

GOD – The most important component to our plan is nurturing our personal relationship with God. But, many of us, like me, desire to “drive the bus”, meaning that we want to control our lives.

Although quite stubborn, I have learned that if I can just get out of the way and allow God to lead me when challenges present themselves, the outcomes are better because I am leaning on my Heavenly Father to pull me through. There is no human power that can do this.

I wish everyone a safe and prosperous New Year. I pray that you and I will be successful in our plans as God smiles down on us, His children. Jason Swindle, Sr.