5 steps to make your new years resolutions stick

new-year-resolutions-300x304 January is a great time to set new goals or decide on lifestyle changes you would like to make. With newfound motivation and optimism you set out to eat healthier, exercise more or stop smoking.

However, everyday life can get in the way very quickly and make it very hard to stick to your resolution.

The reason many resolutions fail is that you’re in a very different mind-set when you plan your resolution compared to the time when you actually have to go through with it.

Imagine 2 people; a ‘planner’ and a ‘doer’. Compare how the ‘planner’ feels when optimistically planning to go for early morning runs before work with how the ‘doer’ feels on that Monday morning, waking up an hour earlier, looking outside at the pouring rain…right before you decide to hit snooze and go back to sleep.

Whether it’s exercising, eating more healthily or stopping smoking. When we make choices that are in the future, we can make wise choices (“I’ll cut out chocolate as it is bad for my health”). When we make those same choices on the day, we tend to make impulsive ones (“I’m hungry, I really want some chocolate now”).

The good news is that there are ways to use this to make it easier to stick to your resolution. These 5 steps will help the “doer” achieve what the “planner” wants to do.

1.    Pick one resolution and make it simple

Don’t try to achieve too much. Channel your energy into one specific action. Make it small and realistic.  “Eat healthier food” is too broad. Break it down into a simple rule “If I feel hungry in the afternoon I will eat an apple” or a simple swap “I will swap full fat milk for semi-skimmed”.

Making small changes that can build towards the overall goal is more achievable.

2.    Make a plan

Plan when and how you will do the desired action. What do you need to do to make it easy for that to happen? If you plan to go to the gym, then work out which days and times you will go. Do you need to put your trainers and gym kit by the door so you don’t forget them? What else might stop you from going?

Pick a reminder that will prompt you to do that action. You could arrange a time to go with a friend or set a visual reminder for yourself.

3.    Tell people what you plan to do

If you keep it to yourself it’s much easier to forget about it or dismiss it. You could write down your resolution, sign it, and place it somewhere prominent in your house. Tell your friends, family and colleagues about your resolution or even post it on Facebook or Twitter for extra motivation.

Making your resolution public makes it harder for you to skip that gym session, or eat those chocolate biscuits.

4.    Make a commitment contract

Supercharge your motivation by putting something of value on the line. For example, give a friend £5 to hold onto. If you achieve your goal that week then they give it back to you. If you don’t they keep it, or even better they give it to someone or something you don’t like! Say a rival football club or a cause you don’t support. Websites such as Pactapp.com or Stickk.com can help you do this as well.

The prospect of losing something is scary. This gives you that extra motivation when you are thinking “shall I go to the gym or give it a miss today?”  

5.    Find an immediate benefit  

Whilst the ‘planner’ looks into the future for long term benefits (“it will improve my health”) the ‘doer’ responds to quick benefits (“I feel happier after I finish a Zumba class”).

Find something positive that you can link to doing that action. It could be that you feel more refreshed after going for a brisk walk at lunchtime, that you enjoy the company of a friend on a jog or as simple as celebrating the fact you have successfully taken one more step towards your goal.

Finally, remember that it takes time to form new habits, and you may slip up occasionally. Don’t blame yourself if you falter. Re-visit your plan. What could you change to make it easier to stick with next time?

This is my take on new years resolutions based on expert approaches to behaviour change and in particular behavioural economics. For more information I suggest looking into the Behavioural Economics in Action (BE101X) course instructed by @dilipsoman. BJ Fogg on Tiny Habits and this piece from Quirkology on resolutions.

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