Starting fresh: New year, new resolutions

Why we make promises to ourselves and how best to achieve them

Janet Knight

Body or bank account: January is a time often focused on shaping things up. But just how successful a person is in sticking to their New Year’s resolutions – physical, financial or otherwise – depends on a host of factors, beginning with how the resolution is framed.

“People fall into two categories when it comes to motivation,” said Danu Stinson, professor of psychology, specializing in social psychology at the University of Victoria. “Some people really excel at, and prefer to avoid, costs and negative outcomes. This is a way of goal pursuit that they really favour and are good at: avoiding bad things. Other people excel at pursuing good things.”

Knowing a person’s motivation style and framing resolutions appropriately – the approach or avoid method – is the first step to achieving success.

“Do they tend to think a lot about possible bad outcomes that could occur, and prepare to avoid those types of things, or do they spend a lot of time thinking about positive things in their lives and how they might shape their decisions to pursue and achieve those positive things?” Stinson said.

Next: surround yourself with people attacking a similar goal.

“If we are interacting with somebody who shares our goal, then spending time with them actually brings that goal to mind and helps facilitate that goal for us. It’s more complex than just having it be more fun than going to the gym with a buddy. Just thinking about them brings the goal to mind for you. It becomes more active in your mind and it’s easier to pursue.”

Gym buddies abound in January, as weight loss and fitness continue to top the annual resolution list. Every year Krista Enderud, health and wellness programmer at Oak Bay Recreation fitness centre, watches gym classes fill up in the New Year’s rush and drop off by mid-February.

“Put some structure onto it,” Enderud said. “Make it attainable. Put it in a timeframe.”

Rather than just setting the parameters of the goal, the person should also tell a friend or find some other way of being held accountable.

“And start off small. Don’t just say I’m going to go to the gym seven days a week and then be surprised when that goal isn’t attainable.”

Taking the intimidation out of the process is another important step, Enderud added. With introductory programs – including fit and fabulous, a registered program that sees groups of three work through a schedule of classes based on individual programs and private motivational talks – and orientation sessions for beginners or those who need that extra boost, slated to begin throughout January, the hope is to keep people coming back.

Though it may require a different sort of discipline, gaining financial control is a perennial favourite resolution. Rick Reynolds, a certified financial planner based in Oak Bay, demystifies the process year round, but does see a spike in clientele who haven’t yet prepared for tax season as the spring deadline approaches.

Among Reynold’s quick tips for those starting out, is to invest as little as $25 monthly in low-risk, non-registered, balanced segregated or mutual funds.

“The reason a young person should do that is the miracle of compound interest,” he said. “The longer you have the money invested, by the time you get to 65, the money is way bigger because of compounding. The people who wait until they’re 40 or 45 to start saving, don’t get the magic.”

So for those who don’t have that magic on their side, Reynolds has some craftier plans in mind.

“I had one client who didn’t have any money saved up at all and every year we would do a (Registered Retirement Savings Plan) loan,” Reynolds said. “Every year he would borrow, say $10,000 from the insurance company and then put the $10,000 in the RRSP, get a $3,000 refund, pay that onto the loan and then pay off the $7,000 remaining over the next year. … This particular individual now has $300,000 to $400,000 saved up, all through RRSP loans.”

Investing in RRSPs and applying the tax refund to a mortgage is good way to build capital and pay down debt – especially while interest rates continue to hover around prime.

People should start their monthly program in January, Reynolds said, while it’s also early enough to take out a loan to secure the previous year’s tax deduction.

“Part of the process of an advisor is not just having the knowledge, but actually encouraging people to save their money,” Reynolds said. “A financial planner is like a coach. A lot of people have not contributed to RRSPs and now they’re behind the 8-ball. Way more people should be doing it. That’s why if they’re behind, they should start doing RRSP loans, especially with interest rates so low.”

On the more transcendent side of coaching, master hypnotherapist Linda Bos of Mind’s Hypnotherapy in downtown Victoria is amid her busiest season of the year.

“People tend to take stock of who they are and where they’re at – or not at – during this time of year,” said Bos. “For the people who are feeling distressed or un-empowered with where they’re at, it’s a time to take a cold, hard look at themselves.”

Bos’ work is to help her clients use the deeper part of their mind, to connect with the deeper consciousness, and facilitate change on a psychological level.

“The process of becoming hypnotized really only takes a few moments,” she said, adding that each session generally lasts about 90 minutes.

Her own husband took on a classic resolution and quit smoking after 25 years with one session. Some clients come in for one or two sessions, with most having completely tackled their issue by four sessions with Bos.

Bos has been practising in Victoria for 12 years and continues to see an influx of new clients each January. Her treatments address what she considers to be the standard resolution items – smoking, weight loss, nail biting, managing stress/anxiety – to any number of deep-seated personal development work.

“Regression work is not just about reprogramming, it’s about understanding why,” said Bos. “It’s clinical, medical, scientific, intuitive and as spiritual as the client would like to embrace.”

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