It’s the start of another new year, which means a fresh opportunity for New Year’s resolutions!

From ditching alcohol and spending more time outdoors, to losing weight or improving your gut health, the lifestyle changes we make at the beginning of each new year have a much more storied history than many of us would expect.

Believed to have begun with the ancient Babylonians, the tradition can be traced back more than 4000 years where, during a 12-day festival at the start of the year, Babylonians would make promises to their gods to receive favour. Fast forward several millennia, while the beliefs behind them may have changed, New Year’s resolutions are as popular as ever with up to half [1] of the global population reportedly getting involved. However, studies demonstrate that around 80% of people that make resolutions don't keep them for more than 30 days [2].

A joint study from Cornell University and the University of Chicago found that the immediacy of achieving results, weighted against enjoyment, was a significant factor in the desire to maintain changes. Resolutions that presented speedy demonstrable results and could be enjoyed were much more likely to be maintained past the initial six weeks.

To increase the chances of creating actionable changes to your lifestyle – and more importantly maintaining them - here are some key tips that can help.

1. ‘Will’ not ‘should’

When setting a resolution, frame it with affirmative language, even if it’s just to yourself. When your resolution highlights that you will achieve a stated intention, rather than should, it’s easier to take ownership of it and hold yourself to account. By comparison, ‘should’ is a recommendation rather than a statement of intent.

Psychologically, this strategy is essential for long-term success and reduces the likelihood of the resolution being abandoned.

2. Be SMART

For long-term success, many of us find it more useful to think of resolutions as a goal. A resolution is defined by one fixed change, not an outcome. Alternatively, a goal concerns the end result, which then opens up new avenues of possibility for us, when compared to more rigid resolutions and helpfully can involve several small changes instead of one big change.

Just like setting business goals in the work environment, the SMART objective structure is a great way to pinpoint actionable changes through a more focused result.

Specific – Is there a definite goal in mind? For example, instead of aiming to ‘lose weight’, set a definite amount you’d like to lose, which will make it easier to hold yourself to account during the year and will also allow you to track progress.

Measurable – Can you measure progress throughout the year? Particularly as demonstrable changes are so key to maintaining good habits, it’s important to set a goal that you can track week on week.

Achievable – While it may be inspiring in the immediate short term, a major change that ultimately isn’t going to be achievable can be demotivating. A common mistake people make is immediately thinking too big. Don’t be afraid to start with small incremental changes and work your way up.

Relevant – Taking the long-term result into account, is the resolution going to improve my quality of life, health or wellbeing in a noticeable way? If the answer is no, your time, energy and motivation may be better spent on another goal.

Time-specific – Setting a specific period of time for the goal may have the effect of implying urgency and make progress easier to track.

3. Consider the space around you, and the people

One of the most effective ways to keep your resolution is to share your goal with friends and family. If others know what your aim is throughout the year, they’re in a position to help with motivation and support.

The trick is to surround yourself with people who will support and guide you through the changes you want to make, inspiring you to continue. The people who influence your life on a daily basis will be the ones to help you get back on track if you slip up.

This doesn’t just involve people either, the environment around us is one of the most significant influencing factors in our behaviour. We’re hard-wired to react to the world around us, and so in terms of setting and keeping resolutions in the new year, this means that changes to our living or working space can contribute to the success of our new year commitments.

For example, if your goal is to sleep and rest more effectively through the year, a useful step would be to remove devices and distractions from the bedroom. Sleep experts for example, recommend psychologically partitioning off the bedroom so that it’s not used for any activities other than sleep. The idea is that it conditions the brain into associating the room with sleep and nothing else, aiding more effective rest. The same can be made true of other resolutions. Smaller changes to the space in which we exist can have a big impact on our long-term commitment to change.

In summary, New Year’s resolutions don’t need to be difficult or challenging in order to have a positive day-to-day impact. The important steps are to give yourself a clear well-defined goal, make the alteration measurable, and foster an environment and support system that will help to facilitate success for the duration of the year and beyond.


References

[1] Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year's Resolvers and Nonresolvers

[2] Most People Fail to Achieve Their New Year’s Resolution. For Success, Choose a Word of the Year Instead


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