New Years Resolution Psychology
Research has shown that about half of all adults make New Year’s resolutions. However, according to Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at Nottingham Trent University, fewer than 10% manage to keep them for more than a few months.
In a recent article he suggests that based on his research, people can easily fall back into bad habits and why, when trying to change those habits, it is easy to relapse into old ways. Resolutions usually come in the form of lifestyle changes, and changing behaviour that has become routine and habitual (even if they are not problematic) can be hard to do.
The most common resolutions are: losing weight, doing more exercise, quitting smoking and saving money.
The main reason that people don’t stick to their resolutions is that they set too many of them, or ones that are unrealistic to achieve. They may also be victims of “false hope syndrome”. False Hope Syndrome is characterized by a person’s unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease and consequences of changing their behaviour.
For some people, it takes something radical for them to change their ways. Mark Griffiths further explains that it took a medical diagnosis for him to give up alcohol and caffeine and it took pregnancy for his partner to give up smoking.
To change your day-to-day behaviour you also have to change your thinking. There are a number of tried and tested ways that can help people stick to their resolutions and here are a few that will likely provide the most success:
Be realistic. You need to begin by making resolutions that you can keep and that are practical. If you want to reduce your alcohol intake because you tend to drink alcohol every day, don’t immediately become a teetotaler. Try to cut out alcohol every other day or have a drink once every three days. Also, breaking up the longer-term goal into more manageable short-term goals can be beneficial and more rewarding. The same principle can be applied to exercise, eating more healthily or spending less and saving more money.
Do one thing at a time. One of the easiest routes to failure is to have too many resolutions. If you want to be fitter and healthier, do just one thing at a time. Give up drinking. Give up smoking. Join a gym. Eat more healthily. But don’t do them all at once, just choose one and do your best to stick to it. Once you have got one thing under your control, you can begin a second resolution.
Be SMART. Anyone working in business knows that when setting goals they should be SMART; that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Resolutions shouldn’t be any different. Saying you will save more money is an admirable goal, but it’s not SMART. Committing to saving 5% of your salary for the next 6 months and then increasing to 10% after that is a SMART resolution. Connecting the resolution to a specific goal can also be motivating, for example, dropping a dress size or losing two inches off your waistline in time for the next summer holiday can be easily measured. So can setting a specific date for having a debt paid off or a certain savings goal attained. The best way to do this is to go to a quiet room with a pen and paper and write out a specific measureable goal you want to achieve and then to keep that paper visible. It really does work.
Tell someone your resolution. Letting family and friends know that you have a New Year’s resolution that you really want to keep will act as both a safety barrier and a face-saver. If you really want to start eating better, real friends won’t put temptation in your way and can help monitor your behaviour. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support from those around you.
Change your behaviour with others. Trying to change habits on your own can be difficult. For instance, if you and your partner both eat unhealthily or drink too often, it is really hard for one partner to change their behaviour if the other is still engaged in the same old bad habits. By having the same resolution, such as eliminating junk food at home, the chances of success will improve as you will both be motivated and will hopefully not open that bag of chips in the evening.
Don’t Limit Yourself
Changing your behaviour, or some aspect of it, doesn’t have to be restricted to the start of the New Year. It can be anytime.
And accept lapses as part of the process. It’s inevitable that when trying to change any behaviour that there will be lapses. You shouldn’t feel guilty about giving in to your cravings, but accept that it is part of the learning process. Bad habits can take years to become ingrained and there are no quick fixes in making major lifestyle changes. These may be clichés but we learn by our mistakes and every day is a new day – and you can start each day afresh.
If you think this all sounds like too much hard work and that it’s not worth making resolutions to begin with, bear in mind that people who make New Year’s resolutions are more than ten times likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t, according to Mark Griffiths. And writing them down increases the likelihood of success once again.