Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

Tia Winter | 23 February 2018

As each year draws to a close and we look to a new one, the conditioning of years of exposure to New Year’s resolutions kicks in. We’ve been programmed to reflect on where we are and where we want to be going, and that is not a bad thing. Yet the resolutions that most of us make at New Year’s tend to fall away very quickly; research suggests that less than 10% of the goals people set at this time of year are actually achieved. The question is why, and what can be done to bolster your chances of success.

Take a Moment to Think It Through

There are plenty of reasons why the New Year’s resolutions that we make fail to stick. They’re all completely valid, and if you read through a few of the many lists that set them out in detail, you’ll soon notice some common threads.

The main issues seem to be not thinking things through clearly enough, setting goals that are not specific enough, being too self-punitive when things don’t go perfectly, and giving up too easily. The best way to deal with all of these things is to anticipate them when you’re making your resolutions, and to continually reflect on where you are at.

If your goal is to lose weight, for example, it’s a good idea to break that into small and manageable actions such as going to the gym twice a week, and to think about factors that might trip you up. If you only manage to get to the gym once a week will you berate yourself and be tempted to give up altogether? Knowing that you are prone to such thoughts can help you deal with them and keep going, with your eye on the prize, if and when they come up. Reflecting on how well you were able to do that will keep you on course too.

Practical Plan for Resolutions

Dr Susan Weinschenk lays out very simple guidelines for sticking to New Year’s Resolutions and says that it comes down to 2 behavioural science factors; habit and self-stories. With a little thought and planning, both of these can be tackled.

The science of habit involves replacing an old habit with a new one more in line with your goal, or creating a completely new one. If you have an automatic habit such as lighting up a cigarette after you finish eating or playing mobile casino games in bed instead of winding down for sleep, you need to break this pattern and put something else in its place.

Rather than a cigarette, start training yourself to have a glass of water after a meal, and try downloading a meditation app to your smartphone. When you go to play at a casino, the mediation icon will remind you to do something relaxing after playing an adrenaline-pumping game. Linking the new habits to the same trigger as the old ones will help, and leaving reminders for yourself to make it easier in the beginning is a good idea too.

The science of self-stories involves rewriting the image that you have of yourself. Simple as it sounds, this highly effective technique requires you to write out how you see yourself with special attention to the details that you think will make it hard for you to reach your goal, and then rewrite your story detailing the self you’d like to see, managing life in a way that you approve of. If you’re trying to stop smoking, your new story could be about someone who doesn’t even think about smoking at night.

A final suggestion is to give your rewritten self a good dose of compassion; if you don’t get everything perfect you need to be kind to yourself. You’ll get back on the wagon so much faster if you do!

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