As the new year approaches, many people find themselves tallying up all of the things that they didn’t accomplish this year, and making lists of the things they hope to change in the coming year. “Eat better, lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, drink less, get organized…” The list can go on and on, but as the year goes on, where do these lists end up? Come February, many people forget their new year’s resolution to cut back on junk food and order a large pizza on the weekend. It’s happened to everyone, so how can be make these New Year’s resolutions last?
According to a study, 77% of people kept their resolutions for a week, but only 19% of people were able to keep up the good work over two years. Why is it so hard for us to keep our New Year’s resolutions? How can you make it last?
Why aren’t you keeping your New Year’s resolutions?
It’s always hard to make a lifestyle change, but it’s easy to keep a habit.
- You want to change too many things at once
Would you try to run a marathon after never having run in your life? Probably (and hopefully) not. The same goes for your New Year’s resolutions. It’s not impossible, but you would probably find it very difficult to quit smoking, eat better, and start exercising all at once. If your goal is too difficult, you’ll feel like it’s impossible to achieve and will get demotivated. Choose one thing and stick to that, and you’ll probably see how the other ones follow.
- You’re not being realistic
You’ve probably been told to shoot for the stars? Well, you might want to think about bringing those goals back down to Earth. If you give yourself a crazy goal, like trying to lose 30 lbs in a month, it’ll be unattainable and you’ll feel badly when you don’t reach it. Now sure how to start working out?
- You’re not motivated
A lot of people think that you have to find your motivation, when really you have to build it from zero. Motivation isn’t something that someone else can impose on you, and it doesn’t magically happen. You feel motivated when you make yourself feel motivated!
- Your resolution ready
If you’re trying to lose weight, but you have sweets, junk food, and your favorite frozen meal in the freezer, you’ll probably have a much harder time keeping your resolution. If you’re trying to drink less alcohol but have cans of beer in the fridge, you can see how it might make you want to have a drink when you get home from work.
- Social norms and society in general isn’t on your side
Quitting smoking is usually a big New Year’s resolution, so how does society keep us from kicking the habit? People are pretty conscious of how bad smoking is for you, and prices have gone up considerably, which does make it difficult to smoke, but going out also implies that you’re with your friends who likely share the same vices you do. You might have your group of “smoking buddies” who go outside and smoke together, but if you quit smoking, why would you go with them? Losing weight is even more difficult. How can you eat “healthy” if you’re constantly receiving contradictory information about what is healthy and what isn’t? Why would to do extra work if technology makes it easy to do everything? Why go out and get food when you can order in?
Get some stop smoking tips here
- Your friends and family don’t “get it”
“Come on, one drink won’t hurt you!” Substitute that for whatever your resolution is.. “grab a little piece of cake! One cigarette isn’t the end of the world..”.These are just some of the obstacles that we face when trying to create new habits. Not everyone will be trying to get you to fall back on your promise to yourself, but some close friends or family members might not take it seriously, and some might put their own pleasure above yours.
- Characteristics of the habits
Most people fall into bad habits for one of two reasons: They give us short-term pleasures, or the negative effects only appear in the long-term.
The factors that most influence our behavior when it comes to learning are those that give us automatic feedback or consequences, not those that take months or years to see a change. Think about working out, for example. You won’t see any major results in the first few weeks, or maybe even months, which is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to keep motivation high.
According to a study, some types of neurotransmitters that make us feel pleasure, like serotonin and dopamine are released when we perceive something that previously gave us pleasure, which makes us more prone to succumbing to it. Once a positive connection is made in the brain, it becomes harder to resist the temptation.
How can you keep your New Year’s resolution?
The part you’ve been waiting for.. how can you make your resolution stick?
1. Make one New Year’s resolution
Start with just one New Year’s resolution and give yourself the whole year to make the habit and stick with it. You can also add other resolutions to your list, but make sure you put them in the order that you want to achieve them! For example, 1. Quit smoking. 2. Eat better. 3. Work out, etc.
2. Change your environment
To really make a change, you need to change your environment. If you want to quit smoking, hide or throw out all of your lighters and ashtrays. If you want to eat healthier, don’t buy junk food. If you want to exercise more, put your sneakers by the door.
There are always little changes that will help you keep your New Year’s resolution.
3. Make realistic goals
Start little-by-little. If you want to start exercising, start by parking further and walking more. Don’t set out to lose 10 lbs a week and run a marathon 2 days later. Go little-by-little and set realistic, attainable goals for yourself. This way, you’ll stay motivated and will improve your habits!
4. Think of a goal that makes you happy without worrying about others’ opinions
You might be tempted sometimes to make a New Year’s resolution that is more in line with what other people want than what with you really want for yourself. Think about what you really want. Do you want to get more involved with your favorite hobby or set a goal to read a new book each month? Don’t feel pressured to follow the typical resolutions of losing weight and getting healthy. If you can’t commit to it 100%, set your sights on something that you really want to do. And remember- you don’t have to share your goals with anyone! You can make it as personal as you want.
5. Reward yourself
Rewards are a great way to keep you motivated, especially in the beginning when your new habit isn’t automatic. If you haven’t had sweets all week, congratulate yourself and really mean it! Maybe you need a little extra reinforcement? Take yourself on an outing! Go bowling or to the movies, or spend the day in your favorite park. But remember- don’t reward yourself with healthy eating by buying yourself a donut, and don’t smoke and extra cigarette because you didn’t smoke yesterday! Keep moving forward, not backwards.
6. Be aware that you might have some slip ups, and that’s OK
If you’ve ever tried making a lifestyle change, you know how hard it can be. You might find that one week you don’t make it to the gym, or that you have some pizza when you’re out with friends. This is normal and OK! If you punish yourself for every little slip up, you’ll end up exhausted and frustrated with yourself. Try not to be too critical of yourself and remember that you’re human!
If you do slip up, don’t dwell on it. Focus on how you’re going to do better next time. Didn’t go to the gym? Start planning next week’s workout and make yourself excited about it.
7. Make a resolution with a friend
Trying to make a change on your own isn’t easy, which is why employing the help from friends is a great way to stay focused and motivated. If you and your partner both smoke, try quitting together. If you and your best friend usually go out, cut back on drinking together! You’ll see how the sense of responsibility to one another can be a great motivator, and you’ll always have someone to talk to through the temptations.
8. Share your resolution with your closest friends and family
Letting your close family and friends know what your resolution is can be helpful, especially in situations where you might be tempted to break it. If you’re at a party or a bar, your friend can step in when others are pressuring you to drink, and your family won’t be pushing the extra piece of cake on you. You don’t have to tell everyone you know what you’re doing or what the purpose is, but you can subtly say that you’re no longer interested in x. For example, rather than having to awkwardly say “my New Year’s resolution is to lose 50 pounds this year” you could say something like “Thanks for the offer, but I’m actually staying away from donuts” (or cake, or bagels, etc.).
9. Plan for the difficulties
Keep in mind that just like some slip ups, you’ll probably be faced with some particularly difficult situations. If want to quit smoking, read up on what possible side effects are so that you’re prepared if you feel them. If you’re trying to drink less alcohol, plan for birthday parties by bringing your own cider or soda that you’ll be drinking for the night.
Think about writing down a list of all of the difficulties that you might think could happen. Parties are especially difficult for dieting and quitting smoking and drinking. Make a plan of action that you’ll follow. You’ll have a little bit of cake, and make sure to load up on salad and fruit, or you’ll keep yourself busy when your usual group goes outside to smoke. If you have a plan for these situations, you’ll feel more prepared and have a better chance of staying on track.
10. Write down the reasons for your New Year’s resolution
Having a written list of why you’ve chosen your New Year’s resolution will help build your motivation. Think about things like: using your time better, feeling healthy, playing with your kids, feeling stronger, improving your life in someway. These kinds of internal motivations are really powerful, and are the ones that will help you when you’re having a particularly hard time keeping your resolution. Put them somewhere you’ll see everyday and remember why you started in the first place!
What are your New Year’s resolutions this year? Leave me a comment below!
This article is originally in Spanish translated by Molly Minchew.
Psicóloga General Sanitaria y sexóloga. Deseosa de mejorar la calidad de vida de las personas mediante la práctica clínica y la comunicación a través de la red.