People with incentive more likely to succeed in keeping resolutions

Mr James O'Connor has committed to doing his second Ironman Triathlon in November.
Mr James O'Connor has committed to doing his second Ironman Triathlon in November.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • The New Year's resolutions are still new. And a cynic - or a realist, given past performance - might say many of them will be broken by spring, if not sooner.

Even so, the resolutions return every year, particularly the big three: getting in shape, becoming better at work and improving people's financial lives.

All three have something else in common: There are financial and economic consequences when someone fails to keep them, just as surely as there are financial and economic benefits to success. And people who can tie their resolutions to real consequences, psychologists, doctors and even health club owners say, have the best chance of success.

"People typically succeed because their 'why' is bigger than their 'but,'" said Ms Elizabeth Lombardo, a wealth psychologist in Chicago. As an example, she said, "I want to work out, but I have no time."

People who can tie their resolutions to real consequences have the best chance of success.

Getting past the "but" is not easy. That is why so many of the resolutions fail. To succeed, the resolution makers are going to need a combination of more help, lower expectations and bigger consequences than most imagine.

Steve Stanulis, an actor, playwright and retired New York City police officer, needs to lose 14kg for work. Weight loss, not surprisingly, is a common resolution.

But for him, failing to lose the weight would result in an embarrassing artistic and financial failure for the revival of a play he is in this spring about a male stripper.

"The problem is the last time we did that play was in Las Vegas in 2013," he said. "I'm 42 now. I have three kids. I'll be the one who looks ridiculous being fat and 40 up there." Still, Stanulis, who once owned a gym on Staten Island, is aware of how tough any self- improvement resolution can be.

"Most people give themselves unattainable resolutions," he said. "As a gym owner, you'd have people come in and say, 'I smoke two packs a day. Last night, on New Year's Eve, we went out with a bang and I smoked six packs. I've decided I'm quitting smoking.' That lasts for a hot minute."

He used to counsel people to try cutting their smoking habit in half. For himself, he has done something similar: Instead of going on a strict diet, he went to a doctor who uses data to show people how what they eat affects them medically.

When it comes to a fitness goal, the mindset is slightly different.

Mr James O'Connor, 44, who lives in Far Hills, New Jersey, and works in asset management, said that after the wear and tear of decades of commuting and working, he had committed to doing his second Ironman Triathlon in November.

For him, there are financial costs. It cost US$700 (S$997) to enter the Ironman in Tempe, Arizona, and travel costs will be much more. He plans to do two half-Ironman Triathlons for training. And then there is the gear needed to compete in events that encompass swimming, biking and running. He estimated that cost at more than US$1,000.

But those expenses are not Mr O'Connor's primary concern. What motivates him are the larger costs, in economic terms, of what he will miss this year. He got his colleagues and his family to sign off on his participation since they will see him less. Keeping in mind what he is sacrificing to accomplish his resolution will, he said, keep him on track.

As for the quicker way to self- improvement, January and February are usually big months for plastic surgery, said Mr Robert Grant, a plastic surgeon in New York.

The financial costs range widely. Injectable treatments such as Botox are generally less than US$1,000, but they need to be repeated periodically. Face-lifts usually cost US$10,000 to US$20,000. Then, there are the costs of time to recover, from weeks to several months.

Yet Mr Grant said he sometimes counsels patients that their expectations would not be met.

Post- holiday liposuction is one such procedure. "If they've gained about 5kg to 7kg over the holiday and think I can suck it out, it doesn't work that way," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'People with incentive more likely to succeed in keeping resolutions'. Print Edition | Subscribe