The New Year is rapidly approaching, and as we change our calendars, many consider changing old habits. But why are New Year’s resolutions so hard to keep?
Jen Johnson is a counselor and life coach, so she spends a lot of time thinking about how to help people meet personal goals. She says less than half of people make New Year’s resolutions, and after six months, half of those resolutions are left in the dust. So what’s the secret to keeping them?
“People fail in part because they’re more focused on the cost of change than the benefits. So, for instance, if someone wants to stop spending money, they’re more apt to focus on the cost of that — ‘Oh gosh, I’m not going to be able to eat out every week.’ — rather than the benefits. One benefit of managing money successfully may be, you know, ‘Well, if I manage my money better, then I get to decrease my stress. I get to retire on time according to my retirement plan.’”
So, keep in mind the benefits more than the costs of the change. And Johnson says specific resolutions tend to stick more than vague goals like “losing weight.” Instead, set a concrete plan to help measure success, like resolving to lose one pound a week or set a schedule of exercise classes. Sharing your resolution can help as well, as it increases accountability – plus, you’ll get the support of friends and family.
And when you slip up -- say, eat that leftover Christmas cookie or miss your first trip to the yoga studio -- don't be so hard on yourself. Johnson says the secret to goal realization is stress reduction and self-compassion. Johnson says when we’re stressed, the fight-or-flight response is activated, but the part of our brain that prepares us to keep our best intentions in mind is deactivated:
“You know, let’s say you have an intention to not eat a certain food, like, ‘I’m not going to eat sugar.’ If we’re focused on that intention when we walk in a grocery store, it’s easier to resist those temptations. But if we walk in the store and we’re stressed and we’re distracted, we’re more apt to just reach for that food. And even if we catch ourselves in the midst of reaching for it, it’s really a lot easier to say, ‘I don’t care.’”
Johnson says reducing stress is tied to self-compassion:
“A lot of people come in and say, ‘Well, I feel like I have to be hard on myself to stay motivated.’ When in fact, that’s one of the worst things that we can do. Being hard on ourselves, again, activates that stress response and keeps us in that chronic state of stress sometimes. One of the first things I do with people is start working with them on how to decrease negative and critical self-talk and how to increase self-compassion.”
To sum it up, stop focusing on the New Year and focus instead on each new day.