15 December 2011
Make New Year’s resolutions – and stick to them
It's that time again, when we resolve to do all those things we failed to do last year typically along the lines of lose weight, give up smoking, drink less, take more exercise, spend less and find Mr or Mrs Right.
Every year most of us make one or more New Year’s resolutions which we fail to follow through to spring. This can be disheartening and damage your self-confidence so here are some practical suggestions to help you stick to your resolutions in 2012.
Start with one week
The reason resolutions often fail is because they are unrealistic and quickly begin to feel unattainable. Before making any firm resolutions try to do the following for just one week
- Take a daily multivitamin supplement
- Don’t drink any alcohol but do drink 2.5 litres water per day
- Get 8 hours sleep every night
- Go for a 30 minute brisk walk every day
- Eat 3 meals a day – breakfast within an hour of waking up and nothing after 8pm at night and try to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Cut down on sugar, fat and salt.
This is only for a week which most people can manage. Doing this is like giving your body a much needed tonic which will put you in a better position to think about trying to make any permanent life-style changes.
When your head has cleared and you have caught up on your sleep choose one thing that would really improve the quality of your life and concentrate on that. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that cutting down on things will be easier than giving it up altogether but the reverse is often true. Cutting down on things keeps the habit alive and makes it more likely we will mentally obsess about it. Research shows that in the long term we are more motivated by the pleasure we get from our victories than by avoiding the agony of our failures. Feeling bad about ourselves and punishing ourselves as a result will not help you maintain long-term changes.
According to experts it takes around 21 days for a new activity, such as exercising, to become a habit, and 6 months for it to become part of your personality. Once something has become a habit it becomes second nature very quickly. You are more likely to succeed it you concentrate on doing just one day at a time, you will be surprised at how quickly the days add up.
Habits can be broken if you understand the process that creates them. We usually go back to an unhealthy habit because we give into cravings. Cravings are like a wave — they rise to a peak, then fall. This happens whether you yield to the urge or not, though most people believe that their craving will escalate endlessly unless they give in. In fact, succumbing to cravings only reinforces them, resisting, in contrast, reinforces resistance. Watch the urge rise, peak and fall and see how easy it becomes to ride them, one at a time, the more you ride the more confident you will become just like a surfer.
Another trick is to recognize that willpower is like a muscle, it gets stronger with appropriate use but ultimately weakens if overloaded. That’s why it is better to set short-term goals that are moderately difficult, realistic, concrete and measurable. As with weight-lifting, starting at a level that is challenging but not overwhelming can provide a sense of achievement and success which can give you the drive to take on bigger challenges.
Get some support
Don’t keep your resolution a secret. Tell friends and family members who will be there to support your resolve to change yourself for the better or improve your health. The best case scenario is to find yourself someone who shares your New Year’s resolution and motivate each other.
Whether we realise we are doing it or not we imitate those around us which explains why there is now research showing that things like happiness, smoking cessation and obesity can spread like wildfire through social networks. So surround yourself with friends who can also be role models. Make sure that people you hang out with are people who look and act the way you would like to.
Rewarding yourself along the way is an important way of staying motivated. Don’t reward yourself with anything that contravenes what you are trying to do i.e. don’t buy a big chocolate cake to celebrate a week of not eating sugar – but do plan something else that you will really enjoy like a night out with friends.
The most common mistake people make is giving up entirely is they have one small lapse. Keep trying and 2012 could see an improvement in all your relationships as you begin to feel so much better about yourself.