Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions - Advice From Our Psychologists
The New Year offers hope for a new start and positive changes in your life. This is the year to be optimistic: Your time has come to make that change. Perhaps your resolution is to devote more time to family and friends, spend less money, lose weight or quit smoking. A feeling of excitement ensues about the potential possibilities for growth. But as the weeks pass by, the stress from daily hassles distracts you from your well-intentioned goal. Before you know it, another year has come and gone with little evidence of any progress made in your life.
Fortunately, principles of psychological motivation can guide you in maximizing your potential for change. Research has found that people who successfully keep their New Year’s resolutions utilize a number of strategies to maintain behavioral change. Try them out, and make next year the year you make that long desired change!
Write out the benefits and costs of the behavior you want to change. If you see more benefits to keeping the behavior than costs of the behavior, it is likely you are not ready to change. Work on building an argument about why this change is worth the energy you will have to put into it. Imagine where you could be in five or 10 years if you don’t change your behavior versus where you could be if you make and maintain your positive change. Convince yourself that this is the best choice for you, emotionally and rationally.
Once you have built up a case for change, create a plan for change. Successful behavior change is achieved through small steps. Break your goal into small, realistic objectives and give yourself enough time to transition and adapt to your new change. For example, if you would like to quit smoking, begin by creating the goal that you will reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke by five per week. After you have achieved and maintained this goal for three or four weeks, reduce the number again.
Work toward a series of small, specific goals that can be achieved in a specific amount of time. When creating your plan, keep in mind that research shows that maintaining behavior requires at least six months to achieve. Additionally, do not punish yourself for any setbacks you have. Setbacks are a normal part of the change process and do not indicate failure. Many people feel that they should be punished for having the unwarranted behavior in the first place, so rather than rewarding themselves for their achievements, they punish themselves for the setback they have. This is an ineffective method to modify behavior. Be kind to yourself, reward yourself for the small successes, and try not to beat yourself up for the typical setbacks that occur.
After you commit to changing, tell others about your plans. Research shows that announcing your plans to change to others increases the likelihood you will stick with it. Plus, others will be there to remind you and support you through your changes. At that New Year’s Eve party, tell everyone your plan—loud and proud—to make a change for good!