Oh, the joys of a new year! The excitement of starting over and making all of those grandiose resolutions to change your life once and for all! I was surprised to read that half of all Americans make resolutions and 88% fail at keeping them. That’s a pretty disappointing statistic, and you can definitely include me in that 88%. But no one ever teaches us how to make resolutions. It’s our tendency to say, “My resolution this year is to quit smoking!” Wow, what a lofty goal! But how are you going to do it? What’s your plan? How will you deal with setbacks? Where do you start? Therein lie the reasons we often fail.
If you want to get scientific, there are actual neurological reasons why we are often unsuccessful at keeping our resolutions. The key is willpower, defined as the deliberate decision to do, or not do, an action. Willpower is controlled by our prefrontal cortex, the area of our brains that controls focus, short-term memory, and conducting abstract tasks. Our prefrontal cortex is constantly at work and can become easily overwhelmed with these complex tasks. Willpower is one of those tasks that can overwhelm our brains if it is not trained properly. If we do not train ourselves to exercise willpower then we are likely to fail. Change requires new neural pathways derived from new thinking patterns. So how to we do that? We have to look at making our resolutions habits instead of just goals.
According to research, there are four ways to increase your success rate from 12% to 50%.
- Pick one resolution that is most important to you. Some professionally recommended goals are exercising, decreasing anxiety and stress, nurturing relationships with those you love, stopping unhealthy habits, (smoking, drinking, overeating) and increasing self-confidence. But again, these are very lofty goals and too overwhelming to leave at that, which leads to…
- Make your goals into tiny habits. For example, your goal is to quit smoking. So you might start by saying, “I will not smoke my after mid-afternoon cigarette and will eat an apple instead”. You are replacing one habit with another. Another example—“I will turn off my phone every time I sit down to eat with my family”. Or, “I will go for a walk every Tuesday and Thursday for at least 15 minutes”. There is no deliberation, no bargaining, no “what ifs”. By making these into specific routines, you are more likely to continue them. It’s just a part of your day, like getting up and going to work or taking the kids to school.
- Accountability. The simple act of telling another person your goals reduces your anxiety about them. Surround yourself with supportive people who will encourage and motivate you. Join a weight-loss support group with those who are facing the same challenges. Reduce interactions with those known to tempt you, discourage you, or criticize you. Another way to improve accountability is to write down your goals. Make an inspiration board of quotes, uplifting and motivating pictures, reminders of the reasons why you have made these goals in the first place. Write sticky notes of kind, supportive, and encouraging phrases and place them throughout your home where you need to see them the most (refrigerator, bathroom mirror, next to your bed).
- Incorporate positive feedback and rewards. Don’t get too overwhelmed by the big picture. Recognize and celebrate all the times you were successful. It is perfectly fine to celebrate with a reward after successfully eating right throughout the week. Treat yourself to a new outfit, a manicure, or a golf day. Praise yourself for a job well done. Tell others and enjoy the experience of doing something great for yourself!
If you change nothing, nothing will change.
Here’s to a wonderful 2014—May it be your best year yet!
If you need Individual Therapy Fayetteville please contact Kristen Speer at 479-444-1400