How to make sure your New Years Resolutions are successful, according to science.
The old adage “New Year, New Me” is, probably, a little overused by now. But just because it’s a cliche, doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Every year, millions of people set New Year's Resolutions and start the New Year with optimism and excitement, but by the end of the first-week old habits have crept back in and before you know it those resolutions are, resolutely, forgotten and abandoned.
So how do you make lasting change?
Often the failure of our resolutions is chalked up to a lack of willpower, we chastise ourselves for not being strong enough and watch as those who seemingly have magnificent willpower breeze into their new habits without a second glance backwards.
But, the science of building new habits and self-improvement is, actually, rather more complex than the simple idea of having strong willpower.
An important place to start when creating lasting change is to understand exactly what a habit actually is.
Habits are created through consistency, when you repeat a certain behaviour within a certain context, eventually, this context will become the trigger or cue for that behaviour. Over our lifetime we will have formed many habits (without even meaning to), such as putting our seatbelts on when we are in cars or instantly reaching for our phones when we roll out of bed in the morning. This is because we have formed neural pathways, and the good news is that we can break and form new ones.
So how can you set yourself up to succeed with your New Year's Resolutions?
Positively frame your resolution. - Emphasise the positives of what the outcome of your resolution will be when you write them down. For instance, if you want to quit smoking you could caveat your goal by highlighting the positive that this act will create (perhaps for you that is the money saved, the increased lung capacity when you’re working out, or simply getting rid of the smell from your clothes and hair!)
Piggyback your habits - instead of creating brand new habits, attach your resolutions to old habits. This could mean something as simple as “after my morning shower, I will meditate. After my morning coffee, I will spend five minutes journaling”, when you attach your new positive habits to ones you already have you are more likely to continue with these habits as you are not having to create brand new neural pathways to create these habits, but rather you are adding them to existing ones.
Make a plan - This is far more important than motivation when you need to build a habit. Motivation will ebb and flow over time and it’s not reliable to wait for motivation to spur you on. Instead, you should focus on making a plan, and then stick to it. This is because when you have a plan you are more likely to stick to it, and you can work this plan around your already existing daily routine. For instance, if you want to work out in the morning, you simply set your alarm a little earlier, perhaps you have a coffee machine on a timer so when that alarm goes off you smell that coffee and are lured out of bed. Have your gym clothes packed and ready to go. Simply write down when and where you want to incorporate your habit into your day, have that plan visible and then stick to it, even when you don’t feel like it. Of course, you might discover that your plan goes awry, but then it’s important to figure out why that is and re-plan to make it less likely to go awry the next time.
Stop being vague - when your goals are not measurable it’s easy to forget them or let them slip to the side. When they are too large you can also feel overwhelmed by the process. instead, break your larger goal into smaller ones, if you want to lose 20 lbs start by aiming to lose just 3-4 lbs by a set date. When you hit that target you add the next small increment, you’ll hit your ultimate goal a lot quicker than if you simply put “lose 20 lbs”. If your goal is to be “fitter” workout what exercise you like, if you enjoy running or cycling then make your plan and smaller goals to be “run X times per week or X amount of time” or cycle “x times per week X distance, then in week Y add 5 more minutes” and so on. When you focus on little increments the larger goal will stop being so important (you will hit it) but you’ll also learn to enjoy the process.
And lastly - make sure the resolutions you set are YOURS. - It can be tempting to set resolutions that you feel you need to, or that you feel your partner, family and friends expect from you, but if you honestly don’t care that much for your resolutions you will not stick to them, no matter your best intentions. So when you set your resolutions we recommend doing so in a quiet space, lighting a candle and simply taking a few moments to meditate and connect with yourself. Relax and truly ask yourself, what do you want out of the next 3 months, 6 months, where do you want to be this time next year? Then write it down, break it down into small achievable goals and make a plan you can stick to.