How to achieve your New Year’s Resolution
Why is it so hard? and what science can do to help.
It’s that time of year again when many of us make resolutions to change. Some of us set long-term goals such as losing weight, exercising more or spending time on productive hobbies. Others go for shorter-term ideas, such as following Veganuary or perhaps Dry January. A chance for us to “try out” lifestyles which are better for us.
Whatever your plans, it’s always good to try and live an improved, healthier, more considered life.
Saying that though, it’s incredibly hard to stick to these goals. The question is why? We all know what we should be doing. We all know that salad is better than a takeaway. That we should exercise more and turn off Netflix to read a good book. Somehow that knowledge alone doesn’t translate into action.
Although there is no simple answer to what motivates us, that hasn’t stopped science from finding ways to help us. So read on for some explanations of how our minds work and what we can do to work around them and achieve our desired goals.
One of the easiest ideas to follow is to use small changes that lead to bigger changes. Many writers promote this idea, and there is some good evidence to back it up. You can look up studies such as the “small changes/healthy Habits” study available through Librarysearch. Also, there are plenty of books based on the idea like James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” (Find it at Merchiston Library).
For many of us, big changes overwhelm us and send us running for the ice cream. No one wants to sit and eat only vegetables and drink water, however drinking one glass of water before each meal is a small, simple change that most of us can do and not feel pressured over. Skipping that extra sugar in your coffee can quickly become the norm, and taking the stairs rather than the lift can create real changes in your body. These small changes over time can help make big differences. Furthermore, doing these tiny changes keeps our brains happy, allowing us to embrace the new habit and make it a part of our routine.
A bit of a buzzword in the last few years, this term can be applied to changing our habits by sparking the serotonin in our brains and turning something like exercise into fun. Why not use an app on your phone to turn a boring run into a race for your life away from zombie hordes? Yes, there’s an app for that! Many smartwatches and fitness trackers let you compete with friends to win virtual trophies. Or go old fashioned and simply join a team sport rather than just trudging to the gym. The comradery and the competition can help inspire you to keep to new fitness goals. You can check out some of the current research in papers like this article analysing “Gamification for health and wellbeing: A systematic review of the literature“. Feel like going in-depth? Why not read up on conference proceedings like this conference paper ” Does Gamification Work? — A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification. Alternatively, try reading this inspiring and engaging online book “Gamify: how gamification motivates people to do extraordinary things”, available online through the Library.
This is a fun term that basically means doing something fun at the same time as doing something you need to, but really don’t want to. It’s based on the theory known as Premack’s Principle. It is a relativity theory of reinforcement, which “states that more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors” Source. There is a wealth of articles on this in Librarysearch if you want a deep dive into its applications.
Here are some examples: Only watch that trashy tv show you love when you do the ironing, have difficult meetings at your favourite restaurant or listen to your favourite music whilst looking through mundane work tasks.
Present me/Future me
This is an idea that we are always “present me”, and future me is not here now so forget about them. Sadly poor future me always pays the price of present me’s decisions. So to “future-proof” yourself you need to make it easier for “present you” to make good choices. No snacks in the cupboards, have those workout clothes laid out first thing in the morning, or in your bag for work. Remove the social apps from your phone and prep healthy meals in advance. Make it easier to make good choices in the moment.
If you want to know how to achieve your New Year’s Resolutions, the trick is to make it easy and fun. Small changes, preparation and finding ways to make less enjoyable activities more fun is the key.
By Juliet Kinsey