By Lisa Webb, D.Psy, MPH and Kenith L. Robins, PhD
Most of us know that about 90% of New Year’s resolutions never actually get resolved. And it’s clear why: We all have habits that we fall back on; that’s why they’re habits. But there’s no reason why you can’t keep some resolutions to point you in the direction of what you want your life, body, relationship, career or almost anything else to “look like.”
1. Figure out what you want to change.
It is pretty difficult to accomplish something without having a direction. For instance, if you want to drive someplace south, you would not get on the freeway going northbound! Whatever you hope for this year — to lose weight, to feel better, to exercise more, to spend less money — you’re much more likely to make improvements than someone who hasn’t made a formal resolution to change.
2. Set a single clear goal.
Instead of resolving to “lose weight” or “eat healthier,” set a specific goal — say, lose a pound a week. And limit yourself to one big resolution at a time. If you’re trying to quit smoking or save money, don’t bother counting how many calories you consume or burn up. We only have so much willpower—and at times it can be tough to keep one goal in mind and one resolution in focus!
3. Break it into manageable bites.
You also did not get wherever you are overnight. In most situations, weight does not suddenly appear—it happens gradually. Also, so it is with making life changes. It is unrealistic to say you are going to “lose ____ pounds by ____” without a plan to point you in the right direction.
And what about exercise? Chronic pain patients we work with complain that they cannot exercise. While that is true, not being active most times leads to more pain and stiffness. We have a specialized movement coach that has a proven history in helping people increase their motion. Even though our patients don’t often run marathons, they report feeling less “mind fog” and able to focus better if they have even some gentle movement every day.
4. Set yourself up — to succeed.
One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,1 tracked people’s reactions to temptations throughout the day. The study, led by Wilhelm Hofmann of the University of Chicago, showed that the people with the best self-control are the ones who use their willpower less often. Instead of fending off one urge after another, these people set up their lives to minimize temptations. They play offense, not defense, using their willpower in advance so that they avoid crises, conserve their energy and outsource as much self-control as they can.
These strategies are particularly important if you’re trying to lose weight, which is the most typical New Year’s resolution as well as the most difficult. The more you starve your body, the less glucose there will be in your bloodstream, and that means less willpower. Because of this vicious cycle, even people with great self-control in the rest of their lives can have a terrible time resisting the jelly doughnut!