Monday, January 9, 2017

Start 2017 Off Right!

by Sally Fansler, PT
The start of a new year is the perfect time to resolve to change something. As we all know, however, a New Year’s resolution can be difficult to stick to. In fact, University of Scranton research suggests that even with the best intentions, just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. So why do so many of us fail at goal-setting?

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard digs into the issue by looking into the human psyche to examine why we tend to resist change. In order to make a change, the authors pinpoint three things that need to be addressed. The first of these is the Elephant: our emotional side, the instinctive part of us that craves instant gratification. Often the Elephant is the first cause of failure because in the short term, it’s much nicer to sleep in or eat ice cream than it is to get up early to go to the gym or eat broccoli. The second component, the Rider, sits on top of the Elephant. The Rider is analytical and strategic, but often has difficulty controlling the emotional Elephant. The last component to successful change is to make a straight and clear Path. With that, the Elephant does not pull the Rider off course and the Rider can guide the Elephant smoothly along the Path.

In physical therapy, we consistently encourage our patients to set realistic goals and make changes. A change in posture can alleviate neck pain. A change in hip strength can improve running speed. A change in overall fitness level can reduce daily fatigue. Pain can be a motivating factor in the beginning, but by changing a habit, we remove conscious deliberation from the situation, which helps us on a healthy path. Here are a few tips:

  • Make your goals clear and concise. “Lose weight” is unclear and easily compromised. “Lose 10 pounds in 90 days” is measureable and specific.
  • Set small, easy steps to motivate the Elephant. Many people quit because their goal feels like too much at once.
  • Establish some accountability by setting up someone to report to and share in your progress.
  • Celebrate small successes rather than waiting until the goal is complete.
  • Focus on the present. Right now, what can be done to help move forward toward your goal?
Change is a continuous process and must be sustained over a long period of time for the results to be clear. A combination of a solid goal, a dose of motivation, and a supportive environment are the best ingredients for success.


Heath C, Heath D.  Switch:  How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Random House Inc., (New York: 2010).

“New Years Resolution Statistics,” Statistic Brain (2016), data from University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology.