Do resolutions work?
The short answer is not usually. The long answer has more to do with understanding how we form habits and what motivates us to replace old habits with more progressive expressions of intent.
The practice of setting New Year’s resolutions is connected to the belief that entering a new year is like a psychological reset button. Unfortunately, the research demonstrates that most people—roughly 80 percent—who make resolutions on January 1 won’t see success. In fact, by January 31, they’ve lost the motivation to follow through on these annual aspirations.
The most common resolutions include:
- Get healthy
- Lose weight
- Live life to the fullest
- Spend less or save more money
- Prioritize time with friends and family
Others include stopping vices such as smoking, drinking, or drug use; picking up a new hobby; learning something new; reading more; and organizing.
Sticking to Resolutions
There are numerous reasons why it’s challenging to stick to resolutions:
- It takes longer than we think. Although the popular belief is that you only need 21 days to form a new habit, science indicates that behavioral changes are firmer after 66 days—more than two months. Some might take up to two years, depending on the individual and the habit created or stopped.
- We’re impatient. We’re so eager for change to happen that we don’t believe gradual results are effective.
- We’re overwhelmed. Change is hard, whether you want to drink more water and meditate more often or deal with cravings and adapt new coping skills. Consequently, we tend to lose focus.
- We take on too much. For example, “getting healthy” often includes quite a few steps for most people, such as more exercise, changing to a whole-foods diet, altering sleep habits, and other things. Doing these all at once leads to feeling overwhelmed and makes us feel insecure about accomplishing it all.
While date-forced resolutions aren’t always successful, it’s still advantageous to form intentions, set goals, and create new thought patterns. You can start right after reading this, if that’s your desire. Here are some ideas that might help.
Goals: Small, Purposeful Actions
The science behind successful goals indicates that you’re fully capable of changing your behavior, but the method to do so has to be deliberate. Research from Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, explains four basic ways to chart a different course. Let’s continue with the “get healthy” resolution example.
- Be clear with your intent. Vague goals are harder to achieve. So “get healthy” changes to “take a 30-minute walk, three times a week.” Notice how you’ve clarified the objective, the length of time, and the frequency.
- Start small. For now, “get healthy” is defined as only walking. This deliberate action is designed to help you manage this new goal more effectively. Once walking three times a week for a half-hour becomes a habit, you can add another small action, such as eliminating fast food or eating more vegetables.
- Align the new goal with a previous habit. Adding a few minutes more to an existing action increases your chances of success. So maybe take a longer route to and from the bus stop, or explore the neighborhood with your dog to complete your goal of 30 minutes each walk.
- Make it as easy as possible. Scientists say you need to create a conditioned response to make your habit stick, which usually happens after seven instances before it takes hold. Reinforce your 30-minute walks with little tricks, such as notes on your shoes, a chart on the back door, a reminder on your phone. This keeps your intent top-of-mind and easier to follow.
Consistent change over time is what helps you see progress in your goals and habits.
Dream a Little
Maybe you’re not into resolutions or goals at all but would rather do something completely different to improve yourself or your life. Psychologist Amy Morin offers five alternatives to the typical resolutions. “These alternatives will help you go on more adventures, connect with amazing people, learn new things, and grow stronger,” she said in this article.
- Instead of goals for the year, create a new goal each month. This helps you develop more measurable actions. Once again, be clear—your goal to walk three times a week for 30 minutes in January becomes three times a week for 40 minutes in February, for example.
- Track your healthy habits. Morin suggests keeping a list of what you accomplish every day to boost your overall efforts. So your list might include eight glasses of water, a 30-minute walk, and a chicken salad for dinner.
- Create a mantra. This reinforces your intent. “A mantra can feel more positive and empowering than a resolution. After all, you either fail or succeed with a resolution, but a mantra becomes a way of life,” Morin said.
- Experiment. Morin said, “Establish weekly experiments that test out various habits or that challenge you to do new things. And you just might discover new strategies that you’ll want to turn into regular habits—but you won’t know unless you try.”
- Make a bucket list. Morin said you can do this in various ways. Think of 52 small items you’re curious about or would like to try, and do one each week for a year. Or maybe there are 12 more substantial goals you’d like to achieve. “Having things to look forward to can boost your mood–and when you feel better, you’re likely to do better.”
Our Intent at Cottonwood
Cottonwood’s holistic mental health and addiction treatment approach encompasses the whole person. Our goal is to focus on helping you bring the mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual dimensions of your being into greater balance and harmony. Reach out to see how we can help you achieve your wellness goals.