How to Keep Resolutions
Every New Year, countless individuals set resolutions for themselves. These resolutions often revolve around self improvement, whether it's getting in shape, saving money, or learning a new skill. The first few weeks may feel like a breeze, but then something happens: life gets in the way. One setback, and then another, and suddenly you’re slipping back into your old ways. Sound familiar?
Read on to find out more about why so many of us make resolutions and how to keep your own strong all year long.
What’s the Point of Making Resolutions?
More than 4,000 years ago ancient Babylonians would ring in the New Year by making promises to pay their debts and return borrowed objects. If they succeeded, the gods would reward them. If they failed, they would fall out of the gods’ favor, which could be disastrous. This eventually led to the modern practice of making New Year’s resolutions.1
Why would such an old practice persist today? Well, it turns out resolutions work, just not in the way the Babylonians believed. Making New Year's resolutions is a science-backed method of bringing you closer to your goals. The practice taps into what behavioral scientists call the “fresh start effect” in which temporal landmarks (like the start of a new year) create a window in which a person’s motivation to engage in goal-directed behaviors increases.2 Other landmarks, like the start of a semester, the start of a new season, and even the start of a new week can all create the fresh start effect, just without the kind of fanfare and celebration associated with the New Year.
Developing & Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions
Setting resolutions is one thing; sticking to them is another. If you need some help coming up with resolutions, we invite you to look into Brillia’s 5 Pillars, especially if your goal this year is to improve your overall health and well-being. While we have a passion for promoting mental health, we know that simple lifestyle habits like following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and even controlling your screen time are all important factors. We also know that taking time out for a short meditation, a gratitude list, or another mindfulness practice will give you the clarity and focus you need to thrive both mentally and physically.
When developing your resolutions this year, we ask that you don’t overlook your most basic lifestyle habits to see if there’s room for improvement. And then use the following tips to help you commit all year long.
1. Set Approach-Oriented Goals
When you make a resolution, it’s important that you’re realistic and specific. You may not be able to climb Mt. Everest if you’ve never hiked before, but you can make a resolution to take a local hike for beginners and work your way up. In addition to being realistic and specific, you should aim for approach-oriented goals as opposed to avoidance-oriented goals. For instance, instead of avoiding spending too much time on social media, you should use an approach of moderation. “I will only spend 20 minutes a day on social media,” or “I will only use social media on certain days of the week.” Studies show people who make approach-oriented resolutions are more likely to succeed.3
2. Break it Down
Don’t force yourself to do too much all at once. To make your resolutions more achievable, divide them into smaller, manageable milestones. This approach prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and allows you to track your progress more effectively. If your goal is to build a meditation practice, focus on meditating once a week to start or meditating for just a few minutes daily. You can increase the frequency and duration as time passes and you start to get more comfortable with the practice. Achieving these smaller milestones will keep you motivated.
3. Create a Plan
Like breaking your goal down into smaller milestones, you should have a plan in place to prepare for what’s coming and track your progress. Outline the steps required to reach your goals, and be prepared to adjust your plan as life throws you curveballs. Having a strategy in place helps you stay on track. If your resolution is to follow a healthier diet, your plan may include checking out a few healthy recipe books from the library, cleaning out the pantry to discard processed or sugary foods, changing up what you buy at the grocery store, learning how to meal prep, and more.
4. Use SMART Goals
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By following this framework, you ensure that your resolutions are not too broad. For instance, if you’re hoping to exercise more in the new year, simply making a resolution like “Exercise more” will get you nowhere. But using the SMART guidelines, your resolution becomes more tangible:
- Specific: Start practicing hot yoga.
- Measurable: Practice hot yoga three times a week.
- Achievable: Does your schedule allow for 3x a week? What days will you choose? What times?
- Relevant: Will hot yoga satisfy the itch for exercise? Will you enjoy the class enough to stick with it?
- Time-bound: Sign up for a membership so you can practice all year long.
5. Stay Accountable
A trick to staying accountable and sticking with your goals is to share your resolutions with others. This might be a close friend, a family member, a colleague, or maybe even your therapist. Alternatively, you can create a public post on social media, which may make it even harder to give up. Not only will your friends and family members help cheer you on and offer support if you experience setbacks, but you may also inspire them to create some resolutions of their own.
6. Track Your Progress
Regularly monitor your progress to stay motivated. Use a journal, app, or calendar to record your achievements, no matter how small. After all, research shows that when you set small goals and achieve them, your brain releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.4 Each time this happens, you get another burst of motivation because your brain associates the behavior with feeling satisfied. Returning to the goal to build a meditation practice, mark off every day that you meditate, even if you only do it for a few minutes. Every time you make that check, your brain will thank you.
7. Reward Yourself
Dopamine is one way your brain rewards you when you check a box off your to-do list and meet another milestone on your journey, but you can also build in some rewards along the way. Meditated for 10 days in a row? Maybe you can reward yourself with a self-care gift, a ticket to a local event, a massage, or whatever makes you happy and gives you something to look forward to. Working these rewards into the process is yet another way to strengthen your commitment to the end-goal.
8. Stay Flexible
Maybe you’ll catch a cold or something big will come up at work and your resolution will fall to the wayside. Don’t let this be a reason to give up. Life is unpredictable, and setbacks are a part of any journey. Stay flexible and try to adapt to changes as they occur. If you encounter obstacles, reassess your plan and recommit. Such obstacles also present an opportunity to practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself when facing setbacks, and avoid self-criticism. Think about how you would encourage a friend experiencing the same setback and offer yourself the same support.
9. Consistency is Key
According to behavioral psychologists, it takes more than two months to turn a new behavior into an automatic habit.5 And minor slip-ups along the way are likely to happen and are not a sign of failure. They also do not affect the habit formation process so long as you make corrections and recommit. To make your resolution stick, it’s important that you’re consistent. And consistency shouldn’t just apply to the behavior or new habit, but also to your beliefs around your resolution. Repeat to yourself why you’ve made this resolution in the first place and where you hope to be when you reach your goal.
10. Stay Positive
Staying positive doesn’t just make you feel good; research indicates it also promotes psychological growth, physical health, and resilience.6 If you hope to stick with your New Year resolutions throughout the year, you must stay positive, even when the going gets tough. The good news is that deciding to make a New Year’s resolution embodies positive thought from the start. In fact, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that people who make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to succeed at their goals than those who don’t.7
No Matter What, Keep Working on Your Goals
While the New Year is certainly a popular time to make resolutions and commit to a healthier lifestyle, it isn’t the only opportunity to do so. This is important to remember if you slip up. Remember that small, consistent steps can lead to significant changes, and you can make them whenever you want, even when the confetti has been cleared away and January 2 arrives.
Explore more resources on how to improve your mental health at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center and make this year the year of change.
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