Science & Technology

The science behind keeping New Year’s resolutions

Each New Year comes with countless resolutions from people hoping to better themselves in the coming 12 months; however, most of these resolutions are abandoned shortly after they are made. According to a 2013 survey by time management training company FranklinCovey, only 23 per cent of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually complete them.

There are a range of problems that can result in failures to realize New Year’s resolutions. A common mistake is that the goal is too general and is treated as a promise to oneself. Without a concrete action plan or specific timeline on how to form desired new habits, many are discouraged quickly and old habits prevail. In addition, most people treat the resolution as a personal commitment to achieve a certain outcome, rather than taking the time to set themselves up for success by planning.

In order to achieve a specific resolution, it is more effective to concentrate on the process of attaining the goal rather than focusing on the outcome. The process of achieving goals is described as a shift in behaviour to change bad habits into good ones. Habits are triggered by environmental cues and are formed by repetition. Therefore, the key to eliminating bad habits is to identify and alter the environmental cues associated with the bad behaviours in a way that will promote repetition of the good or desired routine.

For example, if the goal is to stop drinking soda, it should not be approached by focusing on never drinking soda. The approach should focus on creating smaller, achievable goals and a timeline for achieving them. For instance, start by only drinking one soda per week for the first month, followed by one soda every two weeks for the second month, and so on. Additionally, if the environmental cues for drinking soda are associated with visiting fast-food restaurants, then set reminders to drink water whenever someone stops at McDonald’s. This way, the act of drinking soda is avoided because it has been gradually replaced with other routines.

For some, it may also be helpful to have an accountability partner. Someone to hold the individual responsible to their promise, who offers encouragement and support, and provides the incentive to stick to the plan to achieve one’s goal.

Despite all of this, it is often still likely that there will be a relapse back to old patterns. When this happens, most are discouraged instantly and give up entirely, claiming that the plan they created doesn’t work or that the goal they set is unrealistic. But one should remember, reverting back to old habits is extremely normal when trying to form new routines, and should not lead to abandonment of the resolution. To combat the relapse and get back on track, the obstacle that caused the setback must be identified so that the next time the obstacle presents itself, it can be easily handled. So, it is worthwhile to reflect and recount the environment, activities, and feelings associated with the relapse.

From all this, it may seem as though New Year’s resolutions are just as much an art as a science. No one ever said changing for the better was easy, but by following some of these tips, following through on New Year’s resolutions can be made more manageable.

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