Danielle Ibelema, MD
How To Actually Keep Your New Years Resolution
Tips and Tricks for Achieving Your Goals
It's hard to sustain the "New Year New You" mantra if "New You" is relying on old habits and unhelpful techniques that don't serve you. New Year's resolutions can be a great way to set goals and make positive change, but only if the approach makes sense.
Change is hard. Trying to tackle "big things" is hard. And none of this effort will be linear or without setbacks. There will be weeks that you take 5 steps forward, and weeks that you take 3 step back. What matters is the overall forward movement, your intentions and what the experience may have to teach you.
If you are struggling with sticking to your New Years resolution, that's ok. Don't give up on it. Here are a few tips that you can use to stick with it.
Choose a Simple Goal
Hopefully you chose a resolution was was straightforward and realistic for you. Resolutions to "lose weight" or "get in shape" can be overwhelming, as these goals are not specific enough to have a clear plan of action.
Choosing to focus on one or two smaller goals at at time can help prevent overwhelm. There's nothing wrong with having larger, complex goal for yourself, but it helps to break complex goals into smaller pieces and working toward those smaller components.
Give yourself enough time
Many people expect to see rapid results from their resolutions, but when they don't come, they give up. Genuine change requires time, and it can't happen overnight. Please give yourself more than a few days to meet your goal.
Research shows that it can take up to 18 to 254 days for a person to for a new habit. If you quit after a few days or weeks, you really aren't giving yourself a chance to succeed. The time you can give yourself the better. With time the change can eventually become a habit.
Swap out a bad habit for better habit
Stopping a bad habit can be harder than starting a new habit. For example it may be easier to start cooking more often at home than to stop eating junk food. So be mindful of how you frame your own goal to yourself. Language and point of focus matters.
If you do genuinely need to stop stop a bad habit, it helps to swap out the bad habit for a healthier habit. For example, it may be easier to swap out the unhealthy food for a healthier snack instead of just refraining from eating a snack at all.
We call this positive reinforcement. If your brain can make the connection between the reward and the behavior or goal, you are more likely to keep up the habit. You can use this idea to your benefit by rewarding yourself after you meet a goal.
Rewarding yourself is also helpful in combating the loss of motivation. We need motivation in the long term to fuel our efforts. A reward can give you something to look forward to, and may make it more likely that you will stick with your new plan.
Seek out accountability and Support
We often lack the support and accountability needed to stay on track. Having a support system in place is cucial in helping us achieve our goals. Make sure that the people around you are aware of your goal, and allow them to help you actualize it. If the people you are around most often are not helpful or validating, seek out support elsewhere.
The internet gives us quick access to a variety of online support groups and forums. Try to find one that allows to you to engage with people that share your interest or goal.
Imagine what you would like for yourself in the next year. Be detailed. Find the descriptive language, the images and the feeling of that ideal. Then think of what small changes you can make to manifest aspects of that ideal in in real life. Think of what you can do on your own, and what you may need help with.
Mental health care professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists can help you achieve a healthier state of mental health.
And next time, don't wait until a new year to move yourself forward. Try to find the motivation and ingenuity that a new year brings each day of the year. Let it find you on mundane day midweek, mid-month at time when perhaps nothing special is happening. That's when the true magic and progress happens.