By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D
New Year’s resolutions, depending on who you ask, are something we look forward to or completely dread. One would reason change is a good thing – especially it is a self-guided betterment of oneself. Among the most popular choices are weight loss, exercise, money management, and quitting smoking (Proactive Change). All of these resolutions are good choices; that’s the first part. If only 46% make it past six months alone, where did we go wrong (Proactive Change)?
First, a good start would be to look at what a habit is. According to Professor Clayton R. Cook, Ph.D., habits are “behaviors that are provoked somewhat automatically in response to cues embedded in the environment” (Cho). Examples of such behaviors are brushing your teeth after getting up in the morning. Brushing your teeth is the behavior and getting up is the environmental queue. So, to form a habit, one must replace a behavior with another. Instead of grabbing a bag of chips when you are hungry, instead, you can grab an apple or a more healthy option. What this does is create another behavior to compete with your pre-existing one; realizing you are hungry signals that cue to grab chips, but it will also cue you to grab an apple (Cho). Then, once you grab enough apples (or another healthy option before you get sick of apples completely), it will become a routine. At this point, it does not require any further thought, for it is embedded in your brain. Establishing healthy habits is all about repetition.
Additionally, relapse is a part of making resolutions. The pitfall for many is not being discouraged by this. Only when you overcome relapse and stick with your habit can you can safely say you have made progress. Always keep in mind that slow progress is still progress. You do not have to reach a set goal within a week, but knowing you are inching closer and closer by the day is enough of a motivator to keep on track. Even so, goals can be the undoing of countless resolutions. Visualizing great success far down the line can especially hurt once you reach said point down the line. Maybe you wanted to lose 30 pounds by June, but only lost 20? You should be proud! Look how far you’ve come. If you can make an ounce of progress and stick with it, props to you. That is more than 54% of adults can say by June. For many, things as simple as riding a bike at least four times a week or maintaining a weekly spending limit can do wonders. Concrete guidelines ensure you are maintaining some semblance of progress, even at your lowest motivation.
Imagine how much better you will feel after following through with resolutions, regardless of immense or slight progress. Sticking with a habit and keeping a mindset of bettering oneself can make you feel so much better than you could without it. Better yet, imagine how delicious that slice of chocolate cake will feel when you know you have earned it. Habits can make or break us all – which side do you want to be on?
“Statistics: Top New Year’s Resolutions & How to Keep Them.” Stages of Grief & Loss: Grief Cycle & Grieving Process, Proactive Change, proactivechange.com/resolutions/statistics.htm.
Cho, Jeena. “The Science Behind Making New Year’s Resolutions That You’ll Keep.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 28 Dec. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/jeenacho/2016/12/26/the-science-behind-making-new-years-resolutions-that-youll-keep/#3914f2287491.