How to make New Year's resolutions last
The science of forming good habits
January 19, 2011
Most of us form New Year's resolutions, such as losing weight, getting more exercise, getting out of debt or stopping smoking. We are serious when we make these resolutions, but most of us just can't make them stick. We are not alone. Researchers have found that, after six months, fewer than half the people who make New Year's resolutions have stuck with them, and, after a year, that number declines to around ten percent. Even though a lot of people who make New Year's resolutions do break them, research shows that making resolutions is useful. People who explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't make resolutions.
Why is it so hard to stop a bad habit or develop a good one? It is a natural human tendency to take the line of least resistance. The more a behavior is repeated, the easier it becomes. If an action is repeated enough, the behavior becomes a common procedure every day. It takes a strong effort to change an ingrained behavior. Luckily, scientists agree that the average person needs only about three weeks to form a good habit.
One way to start a good habit is to make it difficult to follow the old habit. Remove temptations from your home. If you want to quit smoking, get rid of all cigarettes, ashtrays, lighters and anything else that triggers the urge to smoke. If you want to eat healthier, get rid of any unhealthy foods in your pantry.
Other research has reported that some simple strategies can help us stick with our New Year's resolutions, for example:
- Set goals. Write the goals down and post them.
- Share your resolutions with a friend. Ask them to keep track of your accomplishments or act as a therapist if something goes wrong.
- Focus on the benefits of your new habit. Remind yourself that you are getting healthier or saving money, not that you are depriving yourself.
The only way to form a lasting habit is by repeating a behavior. The more you do something, the more comfortable and familiar it becomes. It will also take time. Do not expect yourself to overcome obstacles and create the good habits you need to form in one day. After all, forming bad habits did not take one day. Be patient with yourself and recognize the progress you are making. Do not quit if you have a failure. If you make a wrong turn on the road, you don't forget about the trip and just go home. You get back on the right road and keep going.
Deciding that you are going to do something good for yourself and then sticking to it is one of the toughest parts of making a new habit. You will need dedication to motivate you in the beginning, before the new habit takes over. Once you have successfully formed the habit, it will not be as difficult to carry out every day. You will still need a healthy dose of dedication, but not as much.
New Year's resolutions are about significant life change. After three weeks, you will have formed a new habit, but that does not mean you can totally relax. If you don't stay focused after three weeks, you are likely to revert back to your old habits. Maybe not quickly, but over time they will sneak back into your life.
With effort - and three weeks - your New Year's resolution will become a habit, and you can congratulate yourself for improving your quality of life.
About Aging Issues
Twice each month, the Ohio Department of Aging delivers Aging Issues, a column from the Director that examines topics of interest to older Ohioans, their family members and others who care for and serve them. Aging Issues is intended for personal use as well as re-publication in newspapers, newsletters and other publications with older adults as a target audience.
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