A little more than half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but roughly 8% actually succeed in meeting their goals.
Come the first of January, hoards of enthusiastic resolutioners account for the spiking sales of gym memberships, smoking cessation programs, diet programs and many other self-help programs. By the second week of February, some 80 percent of those resolutioners are facing remorse and disappointment in themselves for falling out of line. Why is it that such good intentions seem so elusive?
“Change entails some degree of emotional friction, which in turn generates stress”, states clinical psychologist Joe Luciani. “Essentially, you build self-discipline by willfully enduring the transient discomfort of changing who and what you are”. Whether you’re feeling anxious, depressed, frustrated, fatigued, or simply bored, stress becomes the fuel of failure. “Like a muscle, you need to develop your self-discipline muscle, one challenge at a time. Starting today, instead of reflexively feeling a need to minimize or escape the friction involved in change, recognize instead the need to endure it.”
John C. Norcross, of the University of Scranton, agrees with the endurance theory stating “It’s not so much the resolution as it is how realistic the goal is. Someone says I’m going to lose 50 pounds and keep it off this year versus I think I’ll struggle to keep 10 off — that’s a little more realistic.”
Changing your behavior, whether it’s eating less, exercising more, quitting smoking, etc., is very difficult. Dr. David Wagner, a sleep expert at the University of Oregon, has identified a deeper cause of why we lack the self control to follow through. “When you’re tired you lack the self-control to eat healthy and the focus to be productive,” said Dr. Wagner. Keeping New Year’s resolutions requires self-control, energy, and focus and if you’re sleep-deprived you’re likely lacking in all of these departments. “With goals, we tend to want to want to rush straightforward,” Wagner said. “So slowing down to take a break and sleep seems wrong.” But there’s a lot to be said for a sleep-focused approach to goals. Research has repeatedly proven the ways in which exhaustion depletes our willpower and generates an unavoidable state of stress. A well-rested person will have a much easier time resisting that cookie than a sleepy one. And studies have also shown that people who don’t get enough sleep aren’t just more tired, but are also more distracted.
With this valuable information in mind, here are 12 useful tips to help you create, maintain, and succeed with your New Year’s Resolutions:
- It’s about you! Make it something you actually want, not something you should want or what everyone tells you it should be.
- Make it count! Avoid a knee-jerk decision on a resolution in the moment. Pick something that is meaningful to you.
- Think small. Take a look at the habits that are holding you back in life. Find one that’s simple, like, “When I finish this meal, I’m going to wash my dish.” Make a contract with yourself that that dish must be washed. No ifs, &s or buts! Throughout the day, find simple challenges that you make happen. The better you are at achieving small changes, the easier it will be for you to keep going.
- Limit yourself with care. Don’t pile several challenging resolutions on your plate and expect to achieve them all. When you reach a list of resolutions, evaluate it to the top 3 and focus on those. Should you achieve them within 6 months, you’ve learned what you’re capable of and you can have a seasonal evaluation of Summer resolutions too! “Once you understand that you have only a limited amount of willpower, it’s easy to understand why multiple resolutions aren’t likely to work,” says Ian Newby-Clark, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Guelph in Canada.
- Build self-trust. Once you get used to making small things happen, begin to recognize and embrace the truth:What I say to myself is what I do. In order to guarantee success, don’t challenge yourself with a pledge that you’re not sure you can handle. According to psychologist Connie Stapleton, Ph.D. it’s to better to give your willpower some wiggle. “Absolutes like ‘I’m giving up all sweets’ or ‘I’ll never use my credit card again’ set you up to try to get around your own overly strict rules,” says Stapleton. Instead, try drafting more limited restrictions like “I’ll have sweets only when I’m in a fancy restaurant.”
- Invent challenges. Invent various challenges throughout the day to strengthen your ability to believe and to do. Don’t allow yourself to procrastinate. This falls in line with Dr. Luciani’s idea that you face building self control as you would face building your muscles. Just as you would do repetitions at the gym to develop a muscle, you must you get your challenges in each day.
- Get proper rest! Without a good night’s sleep, the next day is challenging enough on it’s own without the added challenge of self control when you’re feeling week. When you’re tired you fall victim to stress easily, and when you fall victim to stress you crave those comforting habits like a cigarette or candy bar that had brought you so much satisfaction in previous times of stress. (Click here for other ways to manage stress too!)
- Refill your fuel tank! Did you know that self restraint can reduce your blood glucose? Your brain relies on glucose for energy. Natural sugars, such as a glass of orange juice or a bowl fresh fruit can help you replenish the glucose you are actually burning just by over-thinking your resolution.
- Cultivate optimism. Positivity may be blocked by habitual pessimism, but if you are determined to stop complaining (to yourself and others) you can prevail. Pessimism is an instinctive habit most of us have and should be considered when making your resolution as a by-product of your resolution. For example; “I will quit smoking and I will not complain to others about how much I miss it when the mood strikes, instead I will focus on how much healthier I feel.”
- Keep spirits high. Sometimes it feels impossible to cultivate optimism. At those times, try a different approach. Do something that makes you happy like watching your favorite movie, listening to your favorite song or doing something creative. Maybe this is a good time to catch up with an old friend and have a few laughs.
- Develop critical awareness. With critical awareness, you shed light on your destructive, reflexive habits and thinking and on any self-sabotaging mental roller coaster rides. When it comes to self-sabotage, destructive impulses is your number one enemy. (Click here to learn more about critical awareness and how to develop it!)
- Account and reward. Don’t focus on the goals as much as the achievements. For instance, by quitting smoking you can save an average of $35 per week or cutting back on meals may save you an average of $80 per week. This adds up. If you keep a running tally of your your savings you can promise yourself a reward like a $200 spa day each month or a new wardrobe each quarter or even a nice vacation at the end of the year. Draw on the strength of images by putting a photo of those new clothes or that dream vacation on the fridge or PC desktop, or a picture of a Caribbean beach in your wallet near your credit cards to remind yourself of the vacation that you’re saving for.
Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK. Don’t give up! Everyone has ups and downs. Resolve to recover from your mistakes, get back on track and make 2017 your year!