People often lack the self-control necessary to dedicate the time, effort, and resources needed to achieve their goals, and instead postpone them to a later date.1-3 Research shows that special occasions, such as a birthday or holiday, and calendar events like the beginning of a new week, month, or season delineate the passage of time and create numerous “fresh start” opportunities. Hence, the beginning of a new cycle is associated with increased aspirational behavior.5 The most common time for people to collectively vow to change their behavior is the start of a new calendar year.
Approximately 45% of Americans usually make at least one New Year’s resolution. However, more than half of these people forfeit their resolutions within six weeks and only 8% are successful in achieving their resolution by year end.4 Losing weight, getting organized, and spending less/saving more were the top three resolutions made in 2015. Other resolutions on the top ten list included enjoying life to the fullest, staying fit and healthy, learning something exciting, quitting smoking, helping others in their dreams, falling in love, and spending time with family.4
Most New Year’s resolutions involve breaking an old habit and replacing it with a new healthier or more desirable habit, such as quitting smoking, dieting, exercise, staying in touch with a friend, or reading more. In order for a New Year’s resolution to have a higher likelihood of success you need three key elements: focus, measurable goals, and a plan.
It is important that your New Year’s resolution is focused, and does not try to encompass too many behaviors at once. That isn’t to say you can’t have more than one resolution, but remember to keep each one very narrow and focused on one behavior.
When you brainstorm behaviors that you would like to change, you need to identify small steps that will eventually lead to your end goal. If it takes months or even years to achieve the end goal, most people get defeated or lose interest and quit the behavior. Therefore, you need to have small, incremental goals that you can measure and celebrate when you achieve them. Saying you want to get thin or lose weight is an ambiguous goal. A specific goal would be to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day, five days per week. The end goal for you is to lose weight, but the exercise is an incremental step towards the weight loss goal.
It is important that you have a plan for how this new behavior is going to fit into your daily life, and what impact the void of the old behavior may create as well. For example, if you are resolving to eat healthier and this means giving up your morning donut and coffee stop each Friday, this may impact your social health if you typically interacted with friends over coffee. You will want to identify a replacement activity that can provide social interaction that does not encompass eating unhealthy food.
Also, behavior change is often difficult because of habits. Your plan needs to include new activities so you can create new neural pathways in the brain that lead to new habits. You cannot expect to do the same things and get different results. It takes at least 30 days for a behavior to become a “habit”, so give yourself permission to fall off the bandwagon, but then make sure you get right back on again.
Finally, it is difficult to implement multiple behavior changes at once, especially if many of them cover the same dimension of wellness. For example, stopping smoking, dieting, starting an exercise program, and going back to school all at once is likely to lead to a great deal of stress and subsequent failure on one or all of the desired behavior changes.
I challenge you to consider if there are small behavior changes you can make in the six dimensions of wellness that will lead to a healthier and happier you in 2017. Remember to start with changes that will be easier for you to make so you start off with success, as self-esteem and positive self-talk are important when you get to the more challenging behaviors. Here are some examples to get you started:
- Don’t eat for 12 hours each night between your last meal and the first meal of the next day.
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep on each night of the week.
- Complete at least 30 minutes of exercise on at least 4 days of the week
- Brush teeth twice daily and floss at night before bed.
- Wear a seatbelt each time you are in a car.
- Wear a helmet each time you ride a bicycle or ski.
- Have an 8 ounce glass of water before each meal and snack daily.
- Get a flu shot.
- Wash your hands each time you come home, after you use the restroom, before you handle food, and before you eat.
- Trust your spouse or child to take care of a weekly task, and do not do it for them.
- Write your feelings each night in a journal.
- Find one positive thing to tell yourself you did well that day.
- Wear something (jewelry, clothes, a hair style, etc.) each day that makes you feel beautiful or handsome.
- Read an inspirational quote each day that builds optimism or self-confidence.
- Learn a new language by spending 15 minutes each day on a language app, like Duolingo.
- Join a book group, so you read books outside your normal theme selection.
- Listen to a different genre of music at least once each day, such as when driving or cooking.
- Attend an art class for a new medium or craft you have not done before or have little experience with.
- Try to do the crossword or Sudoku puzzle in the newspaper each week, and allow yourself the grace to put it down once you are stumped.
- Use online ‘brain games,’ such as BrainHQ or Lumosity
- Try to spend at least 15 minutes outside each day.
- Meditate or pray each day.
- Participate in a weekly or monthly support group, such as a book club, church group, or behavior related support group like Weight Watchers or an Alzheimer’s caregivers support group.
- Volunteer monthly with an organization that is important to you (read to kids in schools, plant trees in parks, make quilts for cancer patients, clean-up trash along roadways, walk and play with dogs at the shelter, and more).
- Set aside at least one day each week to deeply connect with nature through hiking or sitting alone outside and meditating.
- Get active in your church or civic group by preparing food for members in need of a little support once each month.
- Find a way to do something nice for another person each day, such as letting a car go ahead of you that is waiting to turn into traffic, letting a person with fewer items go ahead of you at the grocery store, opening the door for another person, or complimenting someone.
Interpersonal and Social Wellness
- Call your mom or dad once each week.
- Contact a college friend through email or text every other month.
- Add 5 new and 5 old friends to your Christmas card list this year.
- Join a friend for a walk, a meal, community service, a book group, or even grocery shopping together at least once a month.
- Send a birthday card to each of your family members this year.
Environmental or Planetary Wellness
- Replace one toxic household cleaner each month with natural ingredients like vinegar and baking soda.
- Replace your fabric softener or dryer sheets with wool dryer balls.
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection each time you go outside.
- Pick-up after your pet every time they defecate on a walk.
- Choose drought-tolerant plants for your yard in place of ornamental plants likely to require more water and care.
- Turn off your car when you are sitting in a drive-through line, like at the bank, pharmacy, or coffee stand.
I encourage you to think about your New Year’s resolutions this year as a whole body process. Choose focused and specific goals and develop a plan on how you are going to enact them. If they don’t succeed at first, do not give up on them for the year. Rather look at your plan and see if there is a way it can be modified so you can be successful or adjust your goal to something that is more feasible. Every step you make towards a healthier you is beneficial. Remember to be kind to your mind and your soul and don’t simply focus on what the scale says. Eat fresh whole food every day. Get your body out of the chair and move each day and doing something you love (dance, swim, walk, stretch, hike, tennis, golf, ski, etc.). Interact with your friends and community. Challenge your brain with foreign language, new games, or even simply eating dinner with your non-dominant hand. Most importantly, enjoy your life by filling it with moments that make your heart smile.
Written by Marci L. Hardy, PhD
- Bazerman MH, Tenbrunsel AE, Wade-Benzoni K. Negotiating with yourself and losing: Making decisions with competing internal preferences. Acad. Management Rev.1998; 23(2):225–241
- Milkman KL, Rogers T, Bazerman MH. Harnessing our inner angels and demons: What we have learned about want/should conflicts and how that knowledge can help us reduce shortsighted decision making. Perspect. Psych. Sci.2008; 3(4):324–33
- O’Donoghue T, Rabin M. Doing it now or later. Amer. Econom.Rev.1999; 89(1):103–124
- “New Years Resolution Statistics – Statistic Brain.” 2016 Statistic Brain Research Institute, publishing as Statistic Brain. http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/. Accessed on December 26, 2016.
- Dai H, Milkman KL, Riis J. The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior. Management Science. June 2014. 1-20. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2204126##
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