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New Year's resolutions can be a tricky thing - either we end up being super motivated to implement real change in our lives, or we end up guilt ridden at failing to do so.
"Many of us make New Year’s resolutions to accomplish a personal goal or break a habit," Professor Kathryn Nicholson Perry, Associate Dean (Learning & Teaching) at Australian College of Applied Professions, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
"It comes at a time when people are reflecting on the past year and looking to improve themselves and their situation as the new year begins."
But what happens to those resolutions? Well, turns out most of us abandon them almost as quickly as we make them.
"As humans, we are not good at delaying gratification for a long-term goal. Often goals are set around something we think is important or worthwhile, but not necessarily enjoyable, and this seems to be an important predictor of whether we follow through," Prof Perry explains.
"New Year resolutions are also often reboots of long-term aspirations that we have or changes we’ve attempted before, so we aren't starting with a clean slate and might be carrying baggage from the last attempt we made at a very similar resolution."
Prof Perry however says that 'past baggage' doesn't have to be a bad thing.
"The truth is that what we might see as a failure, when we don't stick to a resolution, might be an important part of future success," she explains.
"Any failure gives us important information about things you may need to address or change to increase your change of success. Many people attempt change several times before they finally nail it, so don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go exactly as planned and if you have to start again."
How to learn from previous mistakes
So, what if you have a resolution, you really want to successfully stick to? Here Prof Perry shares some tips to help learn from those previous attempts and plan to do things differently this time around.
It is important to arm yourself with knowledge prior to trying to change a behaviour because habits tend to be automatic, and it can be hard for us to spot where there are choices that could lead to different behaviour.
You'll need to plan for repeating your new habit over several weeks or even months, depending on the nature of the habit you are trying to change. During that time use external cues to remind you to engage in your new habit, for example a reminder on your phone.
You might find it useful to keep a diary or use a tracking app that helps to provide you with insight into your behaviour patterns. Continuing to monitor your progress once you start to implement your plan can help to keep you accountable.
Being realistic about our goals is important. We often have lofty goals for the entire year that quickly become overwhelming. Breaking them down into short term goals makes it easier to plan effectively and gives you the sense of achievement when you can tick them off.
For example, preparing to run a marathon straight away is an unrealistic goal if you haven’t been exercising very much. Start with a smaller distance when you can walk and jog at intervals and build up to longer periods running.
Make the goal enjoyable
If the goal is not inherently reinforcing or enjoyable, what can you do to build that in? If you are a social person, perhaps think about building in a social component, like exercising with a friend rather than on your own. It might also help to have the power of peer pressure on your side.
Make it easy
Plan for your new habit so that it is easiest thing you can do by building it into your daily routine. It's much easier to stack something on to an existing behaviour than try to make a wholesale change to your routine.
For example, getting off the bus a stop earlier to walk a little further can be much easier to achieve than fitting in a separate exercise session.
In some circumstances though, for example where you are trying to give something up, you might need to completely shake up an old routine so that you are not being continuously cued to engage in the behaviour.
A lapse or a slip is not the end of your resolution. Don't let a slip up or lapse undermine your attempt to change. What does the lapse tell you than you can use another time?
For example, if you find yourself drinking more alcohol than you would like in a certain situation, try to think about at what point you could have done something differently and how to use that information to increase the chance of success next time.
Plan for cravings
If you're giving something up, it is likely you will crave that thing from time to time. Make sure to frame your planned new behaviours positively and have a plan for what you are going to do instead.
For example, have zero alcohol beer cold and ready in the fridge, if you have a craving for an alcoholic beer.
Be open to changing your goal to respond to changing circumstances
We've all become used to sudden changes in our circumstances since COVID-19 arrived. So, remember to be flexible about changing the specifics of your resolution to respond to those changes. You may need to find a different route to achieving the same outcome.
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