Brace yourself for the onslaught of ‘New Year, New Me’ posts
New Year’s resolutions are the perfect opportunity for all those who have failed to start making the changes that they said they would make next week, next month, or perhaps when winter starts.
Well, now’s your chance to sit down and prepare a list of important lifestyle changes you want to make. However the majority of people fail to stick to their resolution, you’ll need all the help you can get.
With January comes the opportunity to start afresh, and people around the world resolve to change something in their lives for the better.
According to a recent YouGov poll, the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2018 are as follows:
1. Eat better
2. Exercise more
3. Spend less money
4. Self care (i.e. get more sleep)
5. Read more books
6. Learn a new skill
7. Get a new job
8. Make new friends
9. Get a new hobby
10. Focus more on appearance
These resolutions were found after YouGov asked a sample of 1,170 adults what their 2018 resolution would be. Like other years, eating better, exercising and saving money topped the list.
How to keep your New Year Resolutions
However, another poll by Bupa asked 2,000 people whether they were confident they would stick to their goals – only half thought they would. So what’s the best way to stick to your New Year’s resolutions?
Whether you are trying to eat better, sleep more or read more books, the key is to make the goal achievable, or break it up into smaller, more achievable steps.
For example, if your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more often don’t throw yourself into exercising five times per week. You don’t even need to join a gym. Go for a half an hour walk or jog before work or when you get home three times a week – or do a half an hour of body weight-based session in your home.
This will get you into the habit of exercising, and so you can increase the amount you exercise as you get fit and join the gym when you’re ready and know you can commit.
Or if you are trying to sleep more, you won’t be able to jump from five hours per night to eight hours straight away so spend a week going to bed half an hour earlier than you usually would. Keep increasing this week on week until you are getting the full eight hours and feeling like a million bucks.
New Year’s resolutions don’t need to be daunting, you just need to be proactive about it. While we might not think there is enough time in our days to achieve our goals, just 20 minutes per day working towards your resolution can make all the difference.
Involve other people
Dr John Michael, a philosopher at Warwick University, studies the social factors involved in making and keeping commitments.
He says that we are more likely to keep resolutions if we can see them as being somehow important to other people - that "other people's wellbeing is at stake" if we fail.
That might mean committing to attend a class with a friend. The effect could be even stronger if you have to pay in advance - once we feel someone has invested time and money in something, we are more likely to see through our commitments.
Dr Michael is currently testing the theory that we are more motivated to prevent loss to other people than to ourselves.
Early evidence from this work suggests that people may be more motivated to continue a boring or difficult task when somebody else has invested effort in it.
Reputation is also a powerful motivator. Making your resolutions public can help you to keep them since the fear that people will think worse of you if you don't see them through will add to your resolve.
"We don't want to get a reputation as unreliable, so publicly announcing our plans can be motivating. Betting can be still more motivating," says Prof Neil Levy at the University of Oxford.
Making detailed resolutions is important, he adds.
Saying, "I'll go to the gym on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings" is more likely to be successful than simply saying "I'll go to the gym more", according to Prof Levy.
He also recommends tying your intentions to specific cues, a practice he calls "implementation intentions".
If you want to learn a language, you might first resolve to listen to a language-learning podcast on your commute each morning.
Then, to improve your chances of success further, you could make sure you stick a note to the steering wheel of your car each night to remind you to play it on your journey in the morning, for example.
You're not just making a intention but also setting out steps to implement it.
He also warns of the potential for "decisions to become precedents".
"Implicitly we recognise that there are exceptions (I won't go to the gym if the house is on fire). But we can exploit this to our detriment by expanding the exceptional circumstances.
"My birthday may be a legitimate exception which comes once a year. But if I start recognising as exceptional things that occur more often - it's the last week of the month, better to start on the first; or it's too cold to get out of bed so early - then everything tends to become an exception," Prof Levy says.
Make them part of your longer-term plans
For Dr Anne Swinbourne, a behavioural psychologist at James Cook University, Australia, the best resolutions are the ones that achieve a chunk of a longer-term plan you have for yourself, rather than those that are vague and aspirational.
If you've never shown an interest in sport, resolving to become a brilliant athlete is unlikely to stick - resolving to save money because you've always dreamed of travelling the world before you turn 50 might be more successful.
And keeping them is all about planning, she says.
Work out what your triggers are, both to negative behaviour you want to discourage and positive behaviour you want to encourage - if you want to drink less, plan to meet friends for coffee not in a pub.
"People who rely on willpower mostly fail," according to Dr Swinbourne.
"To keep a resolution, you have to be boringly meticulous - you have to plan."