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A Closer Look: Effective New Years Resolutions

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Now that we have welcomed in the New Year, Pria Rai takes a look at the tradition of New Years resolutions.

It’s that time of year (again) when many of us will decide that we have to transform our lives and become fantastic new versions of ourselves. Stop reaching for the naughty cupboard, start going to the gym more than once a month, stop spending on unnecessary clothes, start organising yourself better. They are all a lot easier said than done, and goals like these tend to give New Years resolutions a bad name, with many just accepting that they will not be making it past the second week of January. However, several articles and surveys over the years have shown that a New Years resolution can be effective and produce the desired result, providing they are conducted with the right strategy. A closer look at the do’s and don’ts of resolutions is needed.

To begin, consider yourself. It is not a new recommendation that our goal needs to be more specific than ‘loose weight’ or ‘be healthy’, however we also need to know the reason behind our choice of resolution, in order to be motivated. Making a change to the way we live is not an easy challenge, therefore if you have a solid comprehension of why you are dedicating your efforts to this goal, then you are more likely to make it through the toughest moments of lacking the will power.

This idea of focussing also means that we have to break down our overall target into a more manageable process. Create various steps and stages for yourself, which will each bring you a little closer to the new and better you. For example, if you want to improve your fitness, first make changes to your daily life, rather than plunging straight into using the gym 5 times a week. This could be taking the stairs, using a bike or walking rather than calling a taxi. This way, you should feel yourself making progress and can encourage yourself to take the next step in the right direction, as opposed to feeling sick, fed up, and quitting. To further this, tracking the progress you make should not be underrated. Keeping a note of the weight you’ve lost, and the amount of exercise you have done is a priceless form of encouragement that proves to yourself that you really can do it.

A second consideration should be the extremity of your resolution, and how much it differs from your current habits. Any routines or tendencies that we have will be a type of habitual behaviour, which is why changing them is so difficult. For this reason, we would find it a lot easier if we replaced the thing we wish to erase, such as biscuits, with something else more desirable, such as fruit, so that your stomach still feels some satisfaction. Jeremy Dean, a research psychologist at University College London suggests that this has been proven by studies to be more successful that just not eating anything at all, and is less challenging for you ‘limited reserve of self-control’.

Another study has shown that it can take an average of 66 days to make a new practice into a habit that occurs everyday without requiring tremendous will power. The smaller the action, such as drinking a glass of water before breakfast, only took 20 days for the participants of the study to adopt comfortably. Whereas exercise proved to be a little more resistant to breaking the boundary of habitual behaviour, taking one participant 84 days to make 50 sit ups a day a part of life. Each time an activity is repeated it is a mini step in the right direction, as it means it has become that little bit more engrained in you.

Thirdly, this is a New Years resolution, not the final of The Apprentice or your third or fourth year exams, so cut yourself a little slack when you encounter a minor amount of failure. One day of slipping up will not define the rest of your year or your final outcome, instead it can be used as motivation to do better the next day, and you will see that your response to the ‘failure’ is the most important thing. If you caved in to that bar of chocolate or did not make it to the gym, then fear not, do something smaller that day that will substitute it slightly, and reduce the feeling of guilt. Then, resume practices again when you are refreshed the next day. The key here is to maintain a positive mental attitude. If you beat yourself up for every bite of a biscuit, then of course making it to February will be an impossible task.

Lastly, there are many small changes and actions you can take in the environment that surrounds you, in order to give yourself some support. It has been proven by a study at Stanford University, that writing down your goal will increase your probability of achieving it by up to 70%. You can submerge yourself with people who have similar resolutions, or distance yourself from those who bring with them potentially sabotaging temptations. Celebrate every success along the way, every inch off the waist, and every healthy choice in the kitchen. This will reinforce the intrinsic joy you will feel when you attain your final goal.

Breaking the big scary thought of a New Years resolution down into these key elements can hopefully give some much needed guidance towards successfully achieving a goal. An effective New Years resolution will overcome your worst habits, your doubts, and most notoriously, January!

Pria Rai, Online Features Columnist

If you missed Pria Rai’s last column on the Safe Sex Ball and victim blaming you can find it here. You can also find all our other Features columns here.

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