The New Year celebration is one of the oldest holidays and it was first observed 4000 years ago in ancient Babylon. For those that use the 365-day solar calendar, the New Year begins on January 1, and in many countries, it is customary to make a resolution: a promise that in the New Year we will change something for the better. Common resolutions are weight loss, regular exercise, smoke cessation, better money management, debt reduction, and spending more time with family & friends.
Even though so many of us make a resolution, it seems that a month later very few of us will still be on track. This is apparent by how many people join the gym in January but have stopped stop coming by March. For a successful resolution, you must set a goal, decide how to reach it, track progress, and, once reached, enjoy it.
Set a Goal
Set a goal that is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Instead of a resolution of “losing weight”, set a SMART goal “to lose 20 pounds in 6 months by going to the gym 5 days a week for at least 25 minutes”. A SMART goal of “eating better” is “to eat a piece of fruit and a vegetable at every meal for 3 months”.
The reason so many resolutions fail is that people set unrealistic goals and expectations. A goal should be only slightly out of reach of what you can currently achieve. For example, if you smoke a cigarette per hour and know you can go for an hour and a half without one, set a goal of smoking every 2 hours instead and every week increase the time in between each till you no longer crave cigarettes. Or if you can easily set aside $200 a month, then set a goal of saving $300 a month instead. The goal should be challenging but not so much to frustrate you.
Now that you know how to set a successful resolution, you need to track how you are doing. When you break your resolution into small steps you can easily track progress during that timeframe. For the 20 pounds weight loss, break it down to a loss of 1 pound a week to easily measure progress. If the goals are being met, reward yourself, and if not analyze what caused the derail to avoid it in the future. Recognize that you might fall short, vow to do better, and attempt again. Get back on track as soon as possible without dwelling on it for too long. When you reward yourself make sure the reward agrees with resolution in the first place. If the resolution was to lose weight, reward yourself with a new shirt, a new book, or a massage but not food.
Rewire the Brain
Brain scientists Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux, and psychotherapist Stephen Hayes have discovered, through the use of MRIs, that habits are created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories. Your response to a certain behavior will be based on these neural pathways, therefore, when you respond differently you are wiring the brain with new behavior. To make it easier to form a routine, repeat it at the same time every day until you don’t have to think about it anymore. Once you have reached your resolution, you have successfully changed how you think.
To make sure that this year you have a successful resolution instead of a wish, have a work plan with deadlines. Focus on one resolution rather than several, break your resolution in small steps and enlist the help of a friend for support. Knowing you are accountable will keep you motivated. Stay on track even if you miss a few days and celebrate success between milestones.
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.