How to make New Year’s resolutions stick: success stories from Hong Kong parents

A party girl turned meditation teacher, and her lifestyle coach, and two parents who resolved to give more time to their children offer advice about sticking to pledges you make to turn your life around

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 December, 2015, 5:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 3:59pm

For years, Jessica Lam Hill Young lived life in the fast lane. The former editor ran her own copywriting and marketing company, spent as she pleased, and drank and smoked frequently. But last December, feeling increasingly lethargic and dissatisfied, Young began to consider what success meant to her.

When the answers came, she made five New Year’s resolutions to restore calm to her life.

“I realised that my daily actions were not reflecting my deepest intention: to inhabit every moment with a peaceful and contented mind. I shifted from drinking every evening to no more than 20 drinks in the entire year. I quit my smoking habit of 14 years, and I committed to a healthy diet.

I hadn’t taken care of myself for years and was confused as to where to begin
Jessica Lam

“My husband and I agreed to better manage our finances and live within our means. And finally, I asked what was most important to me and built my life around that answer: I said no to making more money, I cut down my responsibilities and instead shifted my life to meditation-related work.”

By sticking to her resolutions, Young says her quality of life has improved dramatically. Free from distractions and unhealthy habits, she now focuses her newfound energy on her teaching and operational role at Hong Kong Insight Meditation Society, which operates a Buddhist retreat on Lantau, and being a positive role model to her young children.

The practice of wiping the slate clean to make a fresh start at the beginning of the year is nothing new. More than 4,000 years ago, Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year to return borrowed objects and pay their debts. It carried over to Roman times, when Julius Caesar started the tradition of making morality-based resolutions to honour Janus, the god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed worshippers to look back to the past and forward to the new year.

But for most people, making resolutions and sticking to them are two separate matters.

In Britain, for example, a 2007 survey of 3,000 people by Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire found that although more than half of the respondents believed that they would be able to stick to their New Year resolutions, only 12 per cent eventually succeeded.

And a survey in 2015 by John Norcross at the University of Scranton in US found that 45 per cent of Americans made New Year resolutions but only 8 per cent succeeded by the end of the year.

Some may question the point of making resolutions when the failure rate is so high, but Wiseman and Norcross, both professors of psychology, point out that success is entirely possible.

People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve their goals than people who don’t, they say.The key is to tell others about your goal to increase accountability and allow for support – an approach that Young believes contributed to her success.

To achieve her resolutions, Young sought help from Teressa Siu, a lifestyle educator and integrative health coach.

“I hadn’t taken care of myself for years and was confused as to what to eat,” Young explains. “Teressa helped me to understand my body and its needs, educated me on which foods would benefit me, boosted my energy levels with traditional Chinese medicine, trained my helpers to cook and systematically helped to put my household in order.”

Siu says New Year resolutions are achievable, especially when you set clear goals.

“Be practical: list your objectives, then prioritise and make a short list. Match your goals with action steps and resources that are accessible, available and motivational.”

Short and simple resolutions tend to be easier to keep.

This approach has worked especially well for Damian Rhodes, managing director of recruitment consultancy FocusCore and the mastermind behind Facebook group Dads in Hong Kong.

At the start of 2015, Rhodes made two resolutions: as a fortysomething dad with a young son, his first goal was lose weight and to get fit so he could spend more active time with his son; his second was to tell the boy every day how much he loves him and how proud he is of him.

“I followed through both resolutions by making time for exercise and also ensuring that I speak life-giving words to my son. I want him to know that I am proud of him based, not on his achievements as he’s just turned two, but because of his worth as a human being.

“My wife shares the same philosophy and we are convinced that this is a reason why he is generally happy and confident,” says Rhodes, who is looking forward to the birth of his daughter in 2016.

While his fitness level has improved, Rhodes is still working on getting healthier.

“I set up a new business this year and so there have been considerable time pressures. Sometimes I have had to forgo the hour at the gym or going for a run, but chasing a toddler around the house can have a similar effect.”

Siu reckons that taking a break from your routine is fine as long as you don’t stop for too long: “Change takes time, so be prepared to adapt as you move along your timelines.”

And if your resolutions do fall by the wayside you can always start again when the time is right. “When in bad situations, you can always sit still and go for the better choices when you’re ready,” she says.

When Samantha Maxwell, a mother of two, resolved to practise peaceful parenting and be a calming influence on her anxious daughter, she had no idea of the challenges that 2015 would bring.

Change takes time, so be prepared to adapt as you move along your timelines
Teressa Siu

“There were some unexpected stressors in my life in the past year – a sudden move, my husband’s job change that impacted home life considerably, dissatisfaction with my own job, a health scare, loss of domestic help when I needed it most, and the list goes on,” Maxwell recalls.

“While I have made huge improvements in my parenting style, these stressors affected my ability to be present so I wasn’t always successful.”

Towards the end of the year, Maxwell decided to revisit her resolutions and determine what she could do differently to achieve them. To start with, she took some time off from her job as an international tax adviser.

“I now feel I am able to be more present for my children and have more patience to help with homework and get through bedtime routines. As a result, my children are less anxious than before and they share more of their thoughts and their days with me.”

Despite the initial setbacks, Maxwell remains optimistic: “This year, my New Year’s resolutions are going to be much bolder and life-changing. I’m going to ‘take back’ and stop letting others make decisions for me. I’m going to speak up more and learn to say no, and by finally addressing my personal needs, I’m confident that I’ll be better equipped to achieve my parenting goals – 2016 is going to be the year for me.”