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Now that 2022 is right around the corner, many of us will be gearing up to commit to a New Year’s resolution. The new year is all about new beginnings and fresh starts, so many of our New Year’s resolutions are centered around becoming healthier. Like other people I’ve had some success in the past with my resolutions, but for the most part they don’t tend to make it past February. It’s estimated that less than 8% of people actually stick to their resolution for the entire year. Why is it so hard for us to hold to our resolutions long term?
As more and more research has been done on the psychology behind habits and behavioral changes, it’s become apparent that making long term behavioral changes is very, very difficult. Habits, whether good or bad, are reinforced by repetition and the reward from the action. The easiest habits that we form are those with immediate rewards, like getting to enjoy eating pizza vs forcing yourself to eat a kale salad. Getting to eat something tasty like pizza is the reward itself, while we force feed ourselves the kale salad in pursuit of a distant goal such as weight loss (sorry to those of you who actually like kale salads). Many of our resolutions are toward a goal that takes time, like trying to lose 45 pounds. The changes that we have to make to achieve the weight loss are for the most part not immediately rewarding actions which makes it very difficult to stick to long term.
So how can we help maintain our motivation through the year? One way is to introduce positive external factors to those non-satisfying activities (looking at you kale salad). For example, if you’re someone who absolutely hates going to do cardio then add some type of positive change to the exercise, like using cardio as a time to work out with a friend you don’t see very much or watching a TV show that you are addicted to only when you are on the stationary bike.
Another way to improve our chances of sticking to those resolutions is to set multiple small goals to achieve while moving toward the big goal. Achieving that big goal of a 45 lb weight loss seems very far way while you are running on the treadmill, but a smaller goal of being able to jog for 15 minutes without stopping is something that we can achieve a lot sooner and is ultimately helping us on our way to the big goal.
Most important of all, be kind to yourself if you slip up. Like we’ve established, changing long term behavior is very difficult and most people don’t succeed with their resolutions. If you do fall off the wagon, get back on as quickly as possible because the longer we put it off the harder it is to start back. I hope talking about some of the science behind forming habits will help you achieve your 2022 goals, and at the least be a little easier on yourself if your resolution doesn’t quit make it the entire year.
Joshua White PA-C