5 tips for New Year's resolutions that work

You're not failing your resolutions—they're failing you. Here's how to write ones you can stick to
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Jan 01, 2012

Anyone who goes to the gym regularly has seen the power of the average New Year's resolution. Starting Jan. 1, the number of people using the equipment triples and the number of people posing in front of the mirrors quintuples. Suddenly, the American indolent are determined to become American Gladiators. But by the first week of March, the treadmills are still once again. Thus is the power of most resolutions. They drive large numbers to commit, flail wildly in their chosen areas of interest, then slink away in disgrace as their resolve fades before the winter does. Sound familiar?

As veterinarians, technicians, practice managers and receptionists, we are not a population of slackers. If anything, we're known for going above and beyond, often giving more of ourselves to others than we have time for. If our resolutions aren't taking hold, it's not due to laziness. It's probably because we're so busy doing the hard work of, well, work, that it's going to take more than a set of vague resolutions to break through the demands of everyday practice and help us forge new habits.

Let's not let our good intentions slip away this year. Here, I've taken five common goals and turned them into resolutions that are less likely to be abandoned and more likely to bring you real success. Happy New Year!

1 Resolution: I will improve my ultrasound skills.

Better resolution: I will take a two-day ultrasound course this year and begin regularly charging clients for diagnostics I do using the machine.

Lesson: Don't fall into the trap of setting lowball goals. That first resolution might as well read, "I will embrace my ability to use the ultrasound to consistently find the bladder. I will learn to take and print pictures of bladders and then discuss bladder health at length with clients." Goals like this are similar to skiing exclusively on the kiddie slopes. Sure, you won't fall down, but you also won't get any better. Get specific. Set goals that push you to grow and give you a distinct sense of accomplishment when complete.

2 Resolution: I will get more clients.

Better resolution: I will contact every middle school, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troop and church in town to ask if I can visit and talk about pet health. I will also put one of the technicians in a giant dog costume beside the road every Saturday until they rebel.

Lesson: Remember to include the "how" when setting a lofty goal like "get more clients." Otherwise, you're destined to expend a lot of unfocused energy.

3 Resolution: I will do a better job talking to clients about dental health.

Better resolution: I will give out at least 10 client handouts on dental health per week, and keep track of how many I have given. I will also increase the number of dental cleanings I do per month by 10 percent.

Lesson: As the old saying goes, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." The same is true for resolutions. If a resolution is a good one, it should come with metrics that let you quantify your progress at any given moment and assess exactly where you are in relation to the resolution. Setting a measurable goal can also demystify the goal itself—it may not seem so lofty and unattainable when boiled down to a simple number of steps.

4 Resolution: I will spend more time talking to the technicians about medical issues of their choice.

Better resolution: I will e-mail the practice manager, the head technician, and the practice owner today to tell them that I plan to spend 30 minutes per week talking to the technicians about medical issues of their choice.

Lesson: Resolutions you keep to yourself are easier to abandon. A friend of mine took pictures of herself in a bathing suit and posted them on Facebook the day that she started the P90X workout routine. I remember seeing them and thinking, "Wow, she's serious about this." I expect that once she posted those photos, she was going to go the full 90 days or die trying. Sure enough, 90 days later she posted new photos, and she looked amazing. That's the power of public commitment.

5 Resolution: I will shadow local veterinary specialists to improve my skills.

Better resolution: To improve my skills, I will shadow a local veterinary specialist before Feb. 15, a second one before May 1, a third one before Sept. 1, and a fourth one before the end of 2012.

Lesson: I have been telling my wife that I will clean my side of the bedroom since we got married in 2003. And I will ... eventually. Deadlines—even if they're self imposed—force action and keep us on track. Put them on your calendar.

Finally, write down your list of resolutions and post them somewhere visible. (Do you know what resolutions are if they're not written down? Daydreams.) Celebrate your goals and look forward to achieving them incrementally each week and month. If looking at your list leaves you feeling overwhelmed or defeated on Day one, consider trimming to a set of goals you can make happen. I find five resolutions to be very manageable. Your five may be different from my five. You may have four or six. The point is, if you've made resolutions that are specific, attainable, measurable, and to which you can be held accountable, you'll be well on your way as soon as you post that list.

This is your opportunity to make 2012 your best year ever. Good luck!

Dr. Roark practices in Leesburg, Va.