For many people, the start of a new year signals new beginnings. For about half of people, new beginnings also include New Year’s resolutions, which most commonly include a change in lifestyle like resetting their behaviors on a bad habit (think: quit smoking) or picking up a new positive habit (think: exercise more).
While these are admirable resolutions, research shows the unfortunate fact is that fewer than 10 percent of individuals will keep their resolutions longer than a few months.
I am not naysaying the time-honored tradition of setting a New Year’s resolution, though. In fact, the psychology behind making resolutions and changing behaviors is something we study in the classes I teach in University of Mobile’s College of Arts & Sciences.
Luckily for my students and anyone else who plans to make a resolution for 2019, I am here to help you improve your chances of setting a resolution that might make it past Spring Break.
ONE change at a time
One of the reasons people fail at keeping their resolutions is that they want to change multiple behaviors simultaneously. The psychology of behaviorism is very clear: To effectively change a habit, change just one habit at a time.
You can change more than one habit in 2019, but consider staggering them so that you work on one habit from January to March, a second habit from April to June, and so on. Working on one change at a time gives you a chance to reflect on what is working, what is not, and make tweaks so that your habit change works for you in the long term.
TWO minds are better than one
Another way to improve your chances of maintaining a habit is to find an accountability partner. This person can simply be a cheerleader who checks in on your daily progress, or he or she can be “in the trenches” with you working on the same habit day in and day out. The external motivation of reporting your progress to another person is highly reinforcing and makes a tough resolution seem a little easier to bear.
THREE ways to tackle the problem
To make resolutions a little easier, I encourage you to break down your lofty resolution into manageable goals. For example, a resolution of losing weight sounds great, but it doesn’t give you a clear idea of where to begin or what your end-goal is. So reconceptualize your resolution into long-term, short-term, and daily goals, each with a specific and concrete outcome.
Going back to the “losing weight” example, a long-term goal could be losing 30 lbs. by the end of 2019. Some short-term goals could be losing 5 lbs. each month (bonus: giving yourself some wiggle room for plateauing or unexpected weight gain). Daily goals could be finding a gym, stretching every morning before starting the day, exercising every weekday, drinking more water, eating salad at least twice a week, etc.
By taking the abstract resolution and turning it into concrete goals, you have a workable plan of action that you can put on your to-do list every day.
So get out there and resolve away! Happy New Year, everyone!