For better or worse, a new year brings with it a clean slate, a chance to mentally erase bad memories from the last year and focus on improving our lives in the year ahead. For many, the start of a new year marks a time to make resolutions: This year, I will lose weight. I will find a new job. I will become debt free.
More often than not, however, those resolutions eventually get swept under the rug, never making it all the way to the next year. For some people, even the phrase "New Year's resolutions" can leave a bad taste in their mouths, reminding them of failed efforts and goals they couldn't quite achieve.
Year after year, losing weight remains one of the most popular New Year's resolutions. According to USA.gov, six of the top 13 New Year's resolutions this year relate to health, including losing weight, eating healthy food and quitting smoking. Other popular resolutions include managing debt, saving money and taking a trip.
While he did make his annual resolution to lose weight and be healthier, Mike Reynolds of Willmar is also setting a goal this year to volunteer more and give back to the community. It's one resolution he knows he will achieve, because it holds special meaning for him and his family.
"I want to be more like my son," said Reynolds, whose son Stephen Reynolds died this November. "Stephen always gave more than he received. He always paid it forward. I'm resolving to be more like him in 2012 and beyond."
In his day-to-day life, Reynolds said he will try to be more cognizant of other's needs, and he will work to put those needs before his own, just like his son always did.
"I know it's a big resolution, but it's for a good cause," Reynolds said. "We can all be better at something. After the year my family had in 2011, I want to make my resolutions a success this year."
Jackie Kaufenberg, who lives in Olivia and works at Vivid Image in Hutchinson, also feels confident that she will achieve her goals this year. Her main goal for 2012 is to spend more quality time with her children. Kaufenberg makes goals every year, but she doesn't like to call them "resolutions."
"Resolutions tend to be more about quitting a bad habit, and I like to make goals that are long-term and positive," she said.
Each January, she takes some time to write down her goals for the year - and sometimes the next three to five years. She keeps them in a place where she will see them often and be reminded to work toward them. It's not as important to her to finish every goal as it is to make progress on them, she said.
"I think that goals that are written down are more likely to be reached than resolutions, which are sometimes not taken as seriously," Kaufenberg said. "This time next year, I may likely have some of the same goals, since some are ongoing. But if I can make some headway little by little and develop great lifelong habits while enjoying the present moment, I will be happy."
t takes work to break habits and develop healthier new ones, according to Todd Patkin, author of "Finding Happiness." Resolutions can work, he says, but people have to realize that they take time and commitment.
"Resolutions are great if you are committed to them," Patkin said in a phone interview this week. "The older you are, though, the harder it becomes to rewire your brain. Changing habits is not easy, and that's what people need to understand."
Patkin believes that most Americans are unhappy because they focus too much on what they do wrong, rather than all the things they do right. Instead of setting lofty, life-changing resolutions in the new year, Patkin recommends focusing on three goals that can make the biggest impact on a person's happiness: exercising, taking charge of your mind and being easier on yourself.
"I truly believe you need to exercise first, above all else," Patkin said. "People also need to learn to be easier on themselves. Don't be upset if you can't change your habits in one day."
Willie Jolley, a motivational speaker, author and radio personality, agrees that making or breaking habits can take more time than people initially realize.
"You might not always hit your goals right away," said Jolley, author of "It Only Takes a Minute to Change Your Life," in a phone interview. "But you have to keep working on them and working toward them."
Rather than making generalized goals, Jolley said people should focus on breaking their resolutions into more specific, achievable steps. He recommends using the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) method to make and achieve goals.
"You want to lose weight, well, how much weight?" Jolley said. "If you want to be happy, how do you measure happiness? If you make your goals relevant, you'll keep going when it gets tough - because you will be tested along the way. You also have to set a timeline for your goals, because otherwise it will become a procrastination issue."
Despite the challenges, upsets and frustrations New Year's resolutions can bring, they also serve as reminders to look forward and focus on how to make the year ahead better than the one we left behind. Mike Reynolds, who lost something precious last year and describes 2011 as "lousy," is looking to do exactly that.
"That's the nice thing about the new year," Reynolds said. "It's a fresh start. A new year means a new beginning."