Why they don’t work
We all make them. ”I’m going to lose 20 lbs.” ”I’m going to get a better job.” ”I’m going to quit smoking.” New Year’s resolutions are so popular, that nearly half of all Americans will make them each year*. All with the hope of new change and a new life. Well, guess what? They don’t work. In fact, 75%* of New Year’s resolutions don’t make it past the first week! Among the most common resolution is to lose weight. Did you know that approximately 1,000,000 American will sign up for a new gym membership in January, but by spring that attendance will drop by up to 30%. And it’s no wonder, despite all that ambitious effort, it takes 66 days for a healthy habit to form, according to a newer 2009 European study**. That means, you will have to stick with you habit, daily, until March 7th. Americans want an instant fix. We are bred for immediate satisfaction, and unfortunately, give up before true results can be seen.
What you can do to make them stick
This year, try something different. Here are three rules for making a resolution stick:
1. Start now! Start your New Year’s Resolution today. Fit and fabulous fitness models resolve that one thing differentiates them (OK, maybe not just one thing, but humor me) from couch potatoes. They chose to start their fitness journey that day. Not Monday. If we wait until a certain day to start our resolution, say on the first, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Every slip up threatens the resolution that we so carefully placed on a certain day to start immediately at 8am. When we slip up, we are tempted to throw the entire resolution out the window, or restart next week (“I already messed up, I’ll just eat this entire pizza today and start fresh again next Monday”) Change is a constant process. As I always say, positive change is about practice, not perfection. If you agree to start now, one little slip up doesn’t really matter because you’re going for consistency over time. Just start again at the next meal or day (not week/month/never), and you’ll see results a lot quicker. Slips ups are OK, in fact, they teach and strengthen us to do better next time.
2. Change a negative into a positive. It is much harder to sustain a ‘negative’ goal than a ‘postive’ goal. For example, instead of saying “I will stop smoking this year,” try “I will be a non-smoker this year.” According to Robert Fritz in his book, The Path of Least Resistance – Learning to Be the Creative Force in Your Own Life, change is about stating what you want, not what you don’t want. Replace your negative goals with positive ones and you’ll be surprised at how much easier those goals are to sustain. For instance:
“I want to lose 20 lbs” can be “I will be a fit person”
“I want to stop eating sweets” is replaced with “I will eat more vegetables.”
Our brains are wired to supplement a behavior much easier than to stop a behavior. When you try to stop a behavior, you need to fill the gap with a positive behavior, or you’ll just have an empty space, and with no idea of what to fill the gap with, will revert to old habits. The key to lasting change is adding in what you want, and eventually the negative will stop existing. For example, don’t focus on not eating dessert, focus instead on adding more vegetables to your diet, and eventually the poorer foods will be replaced. This works, trust me.
3. Write it down – Did you know that you are 10 times more likely* to keep a resolution if you write it down? Better yet, tell someone, blog about it, post your intentions, and even wager some money on your success. The greater leverage you create for your goal, the more likely you are to achieve that goal. For more info on leverage and creating solid habits, take a stroll through here.
So this year, start your resolution today. Try something new (just don’t make a New Year’s resolution to). And as always, report back on your successes (or failures, we’re supportive here ; )
Photo 1: http://cdn.tweakfit.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/new-years-resolution-ideas1.jpg
Photo 2: http://www.cartoonstock.com
* Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers, by John C. Norcross, Marci S. Mrykalo, Matthew D. Blagys , University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 58, Issue 4 (2002).
**Professor Wardle & Dr. Phillippa, of University College London, in European Journal of Social Psychology, (2009).