New Year's resolutions are often made this time of year, before being abandoned in coming weeks. But, why are these promises to one's self so hard to keep? Researchers at the American Psychological Association (APA) believe they may now have an answer to that question, and advice on how to keep New Year's resolutions.

One way to stick to resolutions, according to the APA, is to develop realistic goals for the coming months, which do not involve significant change to character or basic behaviors.

"Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on January 1 can help you reach whatever it is you strive for. Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time," Lynn Bufka, a psychologist who specializes in stress-related issues, said.

Those making resolutions for 2015 should choose just a single goal for themselves, the professional group suggests. This makes it easier to work toward that target, and relieves feelings of anxiety caused if multiple goals start to fall behind. Holiday stress can be a major issue for many people in December, and these feelings can continue into the new year if people feel they are failing to uphold their New Year's resolutions.

New Year's resolutions should also be realistic, the APA advises. Instead of cutting out desserts entirely, people should replace the sweet treats with healthier choices such as yogurt. Those vowing to begin regular exercise would be better off to schedule a couple days a week of working out, rather than making a promise to themselves to visit the gym every day.

Sharing your goals with other people, and working with others striving for the same targets, can also assist many people in keeping resolutions. Those looking to quit smoking often find support by joining groups dedicated to kicking the tobacco habit. Workout classes are available at local gymnasiums, providing a group of peers with whom to partake in exercise, and a social incentive to attend the gym. Professional assistance, including consultations with a psychologist, can provide powerful tools to assist those in need.

Habits are hard to break, and many New Year's resolutions seek to break these behaviors, often leading to failure. But short relapses are normal, and can help motivate people to do better. The average smoker consumes tobacco six to 10 times before quitting for good.

"Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK. Don't give up completely because you ate a brownie and broke your diet, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track," the APA advises.

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