Here we go again. Another year is going to begin and someone inevitably will ask you: Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions? After a moment of thought, you will say, “This year will be different and I will be committing to living healthier”. But will this coming year actually be different? Oops! What I have said? Well, a study of New Year’s resolutions by John Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, revealed that nearly a quarter of people abandoned their goal after one week. An oft-cited statistic is that 80% will fail by Valentine’s Day. Most people don’t successfully follow through on their resolutions – largely because they’re so general and non-specific. That’s where science can help. Using specific, science-based strategies, you can boost your chances of successfully transforming your life in the New Year. Consider heeding these tips:
1. Build a habit – You should ingrain ‘tiny habits’ rather than trying to rework your behavior outright. According to BJ Fogg, Behavior scientist, Stanford University and Author, New York Times Bestseller Tiny Habits, these tiny goals can be anything from practicing an instrument for 30 seconds per day to flossing just one tooth to doing a single pushup when you first get out of bed.
These may sound like ridiculously small achievements, the Stanford expert says, but broad goals of “eating healthy” or “getting in shape” are much more elusive since they’re more abstractions than achievable feats. Instead, desired behaviors that are incorporated as day-to-day habits, much like brushing your teeth or washing your hands before eating a meal, are much more effective since you’ll carry them out without thinking about it.
Once you form the foundation for a new habit—like flossing one tooth per day—soon that habit turns into a full-blown daily flossing ritual, not just of one tooth but all teeth. At least this was the result the professor achieved when he asked several hundred volunteers to carry out the flossing task for a week.
2. Reframe your focus – Research shows there is one possible way to succeed in keeping the resolution – rephrasing your resolution. “In many cases, rephrasing your resolution could definitely work. For example, if your goal is to stop eating sweets to lose weight, you will most likely be more successful if you say ‘I will eat fruit several times a day instead. You then replace sweets with something healthier, which probably means you will lose weight and also keep your resolution,” says Professor Per Carlbring, Department of Psychology, Stockholm University.
Moreover, you cannot erase a behavior, but you can replace it with something else. Although, this might be harder to apply to the resolution ‘I will quit smoking’, which is something you might do 20 times a day.
3. Set small goals – According to Peter Bregman, maintaining a resolution should not be so difficult. The problem lies in the scope of our goals, not in the execution. Rather than choosing bite-sized, actionable behaviors, “we make resolutions on big things, things that we think will ultimately change our lives, things that are important to us and our big priorities.” These mega-resolutions are inevitably more than we can handle.
Therefore, don’t make resolutions like “I will write a book” or “I will lose 50 pounds.” Rather make it “I will write a book proposal” or “I will lose 5 pounds.” Because when you fall short of an audacious goal it can be demotivating, but meeting a more modest target can encourage you to keep going.
Think of it this way having a goal of walking 5k steps a day and hitting 10k steps is better than hitting 10k steps when you’ve set your goal of 15k steps.
4. Piggybacking – We all agree that changing our habits is tough. And the hard thing about new habits is getting started. While the hard thing about old habits is stopping. Both require a lot of energy—either to build momentum (new habit) or slow down old momentum (established habit).
Therefore you should use the power of linking new habits to established routines. The reason habit stacking or linking works so well is that your current habits are already built into your brain. Thus, you have patterns and behaviors strengthened over years. Linking your new habit to a cycle that is already built into your brain makes it more likely that you will stick to the new behavior. Once you have mastered this basic structure, you can begin to create larger stacks by chaining small habits together.
For example, After I have my morning brew, I will meditate for 5 min – After I meditate for 5 min, I will prepare my to-do list – After I prepare the to-do list, I will read for 15 min. This way it allows you to take advantage of the natural momentum that comes from one behavior leading into the next.
5. Clarify and honor your values – Now, this is most important to ask yourself why this goal matters to you? Do you want to lose weight because you actually want to get in shape or because of societal expectations and pressure? This is important to ask because when you are guided by your authentic values you will be better at achieving your goals. Also, you will not run out of willpower. Therefore figure out your why and choose goals consistent with those values.
I know even the best resolution falls apart when you get busy and exhaustive. Therefore formulate a series of plans for what to do when obstacles come in your way. These “if-then” plans are to improve self-control and goal accomplishment.
Whatever goals or resolutions you’re setting for yourself for 2022, remember to take a gentle stance towards yourself. Use motivation to attain your goal rather than self-criticism or judgment. Remember, being self-critical you aren’t likely to achieve your New Year’s resolution. Instead, boost your willpower by taking small and strategic steps and helping yourself to achieve success.
“Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed.” – Cavett Robert
Written by Prerna Dhulekar