<![CDATA[By Helen Farrell, MD
It’s that time of year again. We’re into the New Year, and despite well-intentioned resolutions that started with a blast of gusto and vigor, most of us are already losing steam and making exceptions, or excuses. We’re well on our way back to old habits.
Studies have shown that of the over 50% of Americans who set annual goals, only 8% will achieve them. Most people will falter within the first month of the New Year. Like many Americans, I have made my own list of New Year’s resolutions; in fact, I’ve made several hoping to be among the 8%. Surely one of them will stick!
Curious as to why so many people (including myself) fail to reach their goals I researched the question of why most resolutions fail and what helps some of them succeed. Some people lack the self-discipline it takes to follow-through on their resolutions. Others aren’t really ready to change their habits, particularly the bad ones (eating, smoking, drinking, swearing, cheating, etc.). Some people set unrealistic goals and expectations.
Making resolutions work involves changing behaviors – and in order to change a behavior, you have to change your thinking. Habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.
To help change your thinking, and make success more tangible, I have included a list of ways to succeed at creating healthy habits (including those pesky New Year’s resolutions):
- Call it a one-month resolution
Big numbers are daunting. Thinking about changing habits for an entire year may seem overwhelming. Start with one month, and then make it another after that, and so on and so forth. The majority of people who successfully make it through just the first month of their resolutions continued working on them through the rest of the year.
- Be accountable
Telling somebody about your resolution will reinforce a “must do” attitude. The friend you confide in may ask you how it’s going and, in a sense, help you track your progress.
- Plan for derailments
Going from point A to point B is not always a straight line. Think of it more like a treasure map with many twists and turns before the goal can be achieved
- Be specific
Instead of saying “I want to lose weight” put a number on it! Rather than stating you’ll get out of debt, be specific about how much per month you will pay off on your outstanding bills.
- Connect the goal to core values
Following the example of Mike Tyson, who recently wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times
, give up vices for the sake of better relationships with family and friends.
- Focus on progress made
Be your own cheerleader and focus on gains made and not how much more needs to be done. Celebrate monthly milestones and keep up the progress!
- Keep making resolutions
Don’t wait until next New Year’s Eve to make resolutions. Improving ourselves is an ongoing process and not an annual event. Keep making adjustments to your life and setting new goals throughout the year.
Fujita K, Trope Y, Lieberman N, et al. Construal levels and self-control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 90, 351-367, 2006
Koo M, Fishbach A. Dynamics of self-regulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 94, 183-195, 2008
Orbell S, Verplanken B. The automatic component of habit in health behavior. Health Psychology. 29, 374-383, 2010
Tyson M. Fighting to kick the habit. New York Times.
Retrieved on Jan 4, 2014, at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/04/opinion/mike-tyson-fighting-to-kick-the-habit.html?_r=0