People don’t just change because the calendar flips to January 1. That’s probably why 80 percent of New Year’s Resolutions fade away by February: most of them were made based on emotion, and not logic. Think impulsive epithets you drunkenly swear on the first day of the New Year, or ones that you promise yourself out of guilt because you didn’t get around to doing it last year.
But, as with any scientific study and your middle-school sweetheart, we know that nothing can sustain itself on emotion alone.
Emotion might be what gets you to register for that pricey Virgin Active membership in the first place, but to sustain that beyond February, you’ll need a healthy dose of discipline as well.
It takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit, says Dr Janine Bosak, a professor in organisational psychology at Dublin City University.
“The psychological principles of commitment and consistency are very powerful,” she adds.
What that means is having the discipline to crawl out of bed for your pre-dawn workout, or passing on dessert when you’re surrounded by wobbly puddings and moist cakes, and doing that repeatedly — that’s what is really needed to form a new habit.
Here are three rules from the experts on how to make good resolutions that you’re sure to keep — for new year and beyond.
01 | Be specific
Think about some common resolutions: “Eat healthier”, “lose weight”, “relax more”. Aside from making good water bottle prints, what do they really mean?
“People are most successful when they have a clearly defined behaviour they want to change,” says Dr Bosak. It gives you a strict guide to adhere to, and makes it harder to worm out of. How many times a week do you realistically want to work out? What type of exercise? When? The more specific, the better.
Being specific also help you keep track of your progress. That’s why it’s important to start small, or at least, gradually. An incremental approach is more effective, says Dr Brian Harman, a marketing lecturer at De Montfort University.
“People can monitor their behaviour and reward themselves for the small victories along the way,” he says.
Just as long as those little rewards don’t end up being a new vice of yours.
02 | Start small
There’s a big temptation to make your New Year’s resolutions broad and lofty. After all, aim for the moon and you might end up amongst the stars, right?
“People try to change too much, too soon,” says Dr Harman. “The natural temptation is to try to enact sweeping changes at the start of the year — but changing one’s behaviour is a slow and deliberate process.”
What he means is that a night owl shouldn’t expect to be able to stick to his resolution of becoming a marathon runner when he keeps scheduling his jogs at 6 in the morning.
But what will help is reducing the mental energy needed to maintain your resolution. Pre-planning helps: Dr Harman recommends setting out your running clothes the night before (or even sleeping in them) so you’re raring to go once your alarm rings.
It can be as simple as getting a new, smaller set of plates to keep you from overeating, or re-arranging your schedule to better accommodate a Tuesday evening barre class.
03 | Don’t be too strict on yourself
But if all else fails, don’t beat yourself up over a resolution you didn’t manage to keep perfectly.
“For people who, for example, have tried out multiple diets and failed to lose weight, it’s quite common that they start feeling helpless and lose confidence in their ability to achieve their goal,” says Dr Bosak. Ultimately, that helplessness can make a person feel like it’s pointless to even make a resolution in the first place; ‘If I can’t even keep a resolution, why should I bother?’
But keeping a positive mindset is always helpful. It’s the journey and not the destination, after all: By reframing your failures as ‘learning experiences’, you’ll be able to see them as stepping stones on your path to a new resolution.