With every new year comes many things, including New Year’s resolutions. From the day after Christmas to the first day in January, everyone is constantly asking: what’s your resolution? Maybe it’s to lose weight, to start eating healthier foods or cutting out unhealthy ones, or to start exercising more regularly or more intensely. Maybe it goes beyond physical health and concerns developing better character, being more patient or more organized, or doing better in classes this semester. According to one survey, saving money was the most popularly set resolution for 2017.
Now that it’s 12 days into the New Year, people are probably asking a different question: how are those resolutions coming? You might answer, like me, that it’s already not going so well. This year I resolved to start meditating for just two minutes a day: to sit, be still, and somehow not think about millions of things at a time. Two minutes should be so easy. Yet two minutes of meditation, shorter than a single song on the radio, and probably a fraction of what most people can accomplish, felt for me like all eternity for the past few weeks. The practice quickly got lost in my other tasks and I resumed waking up and going to bed stressed daily. What I thought would be so realistic and attainable suddenly became unattainable.
What is it about resolutions that makes them so difficult to uphold and so easy to break? Well, at the heart of New Year’s resolutions is the goal of changing habits. According to psychologists B.J. Fogg and Charles Duhigg, habits are behaviors that, due to long-term conditioning, are provoked by specific environments and stimuli. Actually, our entire daily routines are composed of hundreds of habits that were formed over the years, whether intentionally or not. Some are good or neutral habits, like brushing your teeth before bed or locking your door when you leave your home, while others are the “bad” habits like staying up late to watch Netflix or grabbing handfuls of Oreos without even thinking about it. We practice these actions and reinforce them until they become adhered to our everyday life, whether we like it or not. So while we may get excited about picking a habit and resolving to change it, actually changing it often takes as long as (or even longer than) it took to establish it. Whether your resolution is to create a good habit or change a bad one, here are some tips you can keep in mind.
Start small. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that small changes will “pave the way” for the bigger changes that we envision. When I first made my resolution, I wanted to meditate for “just” five minutes. I quickly realized that this was not realistic for me, yet it was hard for me to acknowledge that I needed to aim smaller. I was not able to progress in my resolution until I got over it and actually started with just two minutes, and you might find it easier to get to your goal if you check off the small things first. Is your goal to run 5 miles a day, even though you don’t normally run at all? Aim for 1 mile a day at first: then 2, then 3, and eventually 5 will be no problem.
Be specific. You may want to “eat healthy” or “read more books” this year. Instead, how about you eat 3 different vegetables a day, or read 1 book a week? Completing more specific tasks will provide you with a sense of accomplishment that will motivate you on to the next task, and eventually lead you to your overall goal.
Find something desirable to connect to your resolution. This may be as simple as asking yourself why you want to accomplish your goal. For me, I want to meditate because I want to alleviate my stress; when I think about the idea of having less stress, it gives me much more motivation to practice. On the other hand, maybe you have a goal you know is good because others think of it as “good”, like eating more vegetables, but you don’t know specifically why it would be good for you. If you learn that regularly eating vegetables are full of nutrients that protect and strengthen the body, or that eating spinach cuts your risk for two of the three deadliest cancers (breast and colon cancer), you’ll likely strive for those benefits. If you learn that exercise, over time, will make you feel mentally and physically awesome, you may strive for that, too.
Tell everyone! Let your friends know; discuss it with your family, perhaps post your resolution on social media. Getting the word out there so that everyone knows your goals provides you with a support system and a sense of accountability, not of others to you but of you to yourself.
Good luck with your resolutions this coming year!