New Year's resolutions can be a great opportunity to make positive changes in your life, but they are notoriously difficult to keep. We look at some psychological techniques that will help you to make realistic, achievable resolutions – and stick to them!
The week between Christmas and New Year is a strange time. With the festivities over, many of us fall into an introspective mood. We take a hard look at our lives and think about the year ahead. Feeling full of the inspiration that the start of a new year can bring, we make New Year's resolutions... Only to break most opf them by the second half of January.
It doesn't have to be this way. You can harness the introspection and the motivation to change your life in a positive way. New Year's resolutions can be a kick-start for turning your life around if you make them wisely, anticipate the pitfalls, and have strategies in place for sticking to your goals. Psychology has much to offer in this context, since much of psychological theory and therapy is focused on helping people to make lasting changes in their lives. Below are some tips distilled from psychological theory and research that should help you to make and implement your New Year's resolutions. Since most of us make New Year's resolutions related to health and fitness, these are the domains that we'll focus on.
Tip 1: Have a long hard think
There's a whole branch of psychology that's dedicated to studying how people make lasting changes to their behaviour. Researchers in this field have identified distinct stages of change: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance. You can use this theory to your advantage by taking some time to analyse where you're at in your life right now.
Some examples might clarify this: If you're at the Pre-Contemplation or Contemplation stages, it makes sense to do some research about the benefits of different exercise programmes and to be clear about the different options available to you. If that's all in place and you've made your plans, now is the time to take Action and actually get going with your fitness programme. If you've got a good health and fitness routine going, perhaps you need to think about ways of maintaining that and keeping up the good work.
Tip 2: Set yourself SMART goals
In this context, SMART stands for Specific, Achievable, Measurable, Realistic and Timely. In order for you to stand any chance of sticking to your New Year's resolutions, they need to be SMART. Try to define concrete, manageable goals that you'll be able to track over time and that are right for you right now. “Getting fit” is not much use as a New Year's resolution. “Go to the gym 3 times a week” is better, but can be improved on by specifying exactly what you're going to do (strength training? Cardio?), for how long, and how you'll know you're making progress (e.g. by being able to lift a specified weight, running a mile in a specified time, and so on.)
Tip 3: Anticipate the pitfalls
It's not being unduly pessimistic to realise that good intentions alone are not enough. It's the New Year after all – it's cold and dark and gloomy and most of us are physically and mentally hungover from Christmas! Don't just blithely assume that the New You will effortlessly surmount all obstacles. Allow yourself to be human! Spend some time thinking about the potential obstacles that could get in the way of you achieving your goals, and brainstorm some solutions for them. Perhaps there's a danger you'll get bored of a regular exercise class – consider what other options are available and how you might build variation into your exercise programme. If it's hard to find the motivation to exercise at the end of a long day, maybe you could try shifting your workout to your lunchbreak or get it out of the way first thing in the morning. If you anticipate motivation being an issue, you could buddy up with a friend and give each other mutual encouragement.
Tip 4: Travel in time
This is a great technique both for clarifying your goals and keeping up your motivation: First of all, think yourself back to this time one year ago. How have you already progressed since then? In what ways are you already closer to achieving your goals? Now imagine yourself a year hence, perhaps making New Year's resolutions again. What would you like to be able to look back on? Using past and future perspectives like this can help you to gain a broader outlook and a clearer sense of what you've already achieved and what might need some more work.
Tip 5: Review your progress
Plan a regular review of how you're getting on. It's up to you how often you do this – weekly or monthly are popular options. The important thing is that you spend some time focusing on your achievements as well as on areas you'd like to improve. Revisit your original resolutions and see how you've measured up. Do you need to change what you're doing or do the resolutions need to be revised? It's important to strike a balance between recognising your achievements and being honest about your shortcomings. Too much of the former and you'll rest on your laurels and stagnate. An over-emphasis on the latter will leave you feeling demotivated and overwhelmed. Use the review process to kickstart your motivation.
Have a happy and healthy New Year!!!
by Kath Webb
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