How to keep your New Year’s resolutions: 4 science-backed tips
- Written by Diana Vilibert and Ann Pietrangelo
New Year’s resolutions have been around a long time, particularly health-related ones. Some of us make them half-heartedly, some of us do it with great purpose. Few of us actually achieve our goals by the end of the year.
Maybe it’s because making resolutions just after the holidays is particularly bad timing, what with our tendencies to overindulge, overspend, and generally let the chips fall where they may. Or maybe it’s because we are completely unrealistic or entirely too vague with our resolutions.
Keep reading to find out what makes a New Year’s resolution succeed or fail, and how to make sure your own 2015 goal sticks.
Simple is best
January 1, 2015 is not the time for a total life overhaul. Willpower is a finite resource, so use it wisely. Pick one goal to focus on at a time (even if you plan to work on a few over the course of the year) instead of overloading yourself with plans to run a marathon, double your income, go vegan, and stop smoking.
“We say if you can’t measure it, it’s not a very good resolution because vague goals beget vague resolutions,” John Norcross of the University of Scranton tells Forbes. Instead of making a resolution to eat more vegetables, make a plan to eat a veggie-centric meal for lunch every day. Instead of resolving to start working out, sign up for a class that meets three times a week. Want to cook more? Put grocery shopping on your calendar, along with a few weeknights each week so that it’s part of your schedule, not just wishful thinking.
Reward yourself along the way
Researchers found that “reinforcement strategies”—rewards for reaching goals part of the resolution—helped people succeed in their resolution. All the more reason to treat yourself to a massage after a month of sticking to a running program, or a cooking class while working on eating healthy.
Plan to fail
Don’t be afraid of setbacks…expect them! Successful resolution-makers who stuck to it for two years slipped up an average of 14 times over the two-year span. Don’t assume your resolution will be without hiccups along the way—and don’t let temporary setbacks get you down on yourself. Researchers found that self-blaming behaviours were more often correlated with failure to keep a resolution long-term.
The good news is that even some of the worst resolutions can work if we eliminate broad statements and boil them down to specifics.
Join a gym
Ah, the January gym membership. We all know how that one turns out. Gyms are brimming with activity in January, but no so much come April. It’s an expensive lesson.
If you really want to exercise, make a long-term plan. Begin with walking or other easy or moderate exercises that you can do in your home or around your neighbourhood. Gradually increase your exercise level and stick to your long-term plan. If by May or June, you’re still at it, you may be ready for that gym membership after all. The key is to carefully investigate the details of gym membership so you can determine how and when it will fit into your life.
Go on a diet
The problem is that “going on a diet” is setting yourself up for failure. Unless your doctor has recommended a very specific diet for a health condition, you should just forget about strict diets and fad diets because eventually, you’re bound to stray.
Instead of a “diet,” think about eating for optimal health and wellbeing, and think about it as a lifetime plan, not something with an expiration date. Even if a specific weight is your ultimate goal, a lifetime plan of eating for health will eliminate that temptation to go back to your old ways once your reach your desired weight.
Stop being stressed
Stress is part of life, so we cannot hope to eliminate all stress. We can learn to eliminate some unnecessary stresses in our lives and to manage others better, but just wishing it doesn’t make it so.
Identify your key stresses. If they can be avoided by simply not doing something, perhaps it’s time to cut those things out of your life. If that’s not an option, you must learn how to manage those stresses and keep them in perspective. Some popular stress reducers are:
• physical exercise
• breathing exercises
• martial arts like tai chi
• professional counseling or therapy
Sign up for courses in relaxation techniques that appeal to you. It may help to engage in these activities on a regular basis and you may find it easier to stick to it if it involves a group setting.
Stop smoking and/ or drinking
Have you made this resolution before? Deeply engrained or physically addictive habits are hard to break and it often takes several tries. If you messed this one up before, it doesn’t mean you have failed. It only means you have to begin again. Right now. Whether it’s smoking, drinking, or some other bad habit, it’s a good idea to quit and you certainly don’t need a new year’s resolution to do it.
Seek medical advice and think about joining an addicts group where you can find the support you need.