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Helpful Ways to Make Your New Year's Resolutions Stick

Dr. Stephanie Grant, LCSW, 144th Fighter Wing Director of Psychological Health

Stephanie Grant, PhD, LCSW, 144th Fighter Wing Director of Psychological Health

Fresno Air National Guard Base, Calif. --

It is often said that we are creatures of habit.  The new year is a great time to take inventory of our habits and consider which habits are worth keeping and which ones help us live our best lives. Sometimes we get in the routine of engaging in habits that do not promote our wellbeing. We know that bad habits can negatively impact our health, overall happiness, and bottom line. 

Research varies on exactly how long it takes to form a habit. Studies indicate that only changing goals and intentions are not effective at changing how a person behaves. We know that education alone does not promote sustained behavior change. Most would agree that behavioral change is much harder than self-help books suggest. In fact, only 30% of new year’s resolutions are sustained after six months. There are some things you can do to make your new year’s resolutions stick.

Prioritize Your Goals – Make sure that your goals are realistic and something you can sustain over time. Willpower is a finite resource. When we resist temptation, it can quickly drain our willpower. This leaves us vulnerable to actions that reinforce our impulsive behaviors. A common mistake with new year’s resolutions is to be overly ambitious. It is wise to identify one behavior you’d like to target and prioritize your goals. The best approach is to focus on small, incremental changes that replace the habit with a behavior that produces a similar reward.

Change Your Routines – Habits and routines generally go hand in hand. Therefore, when we disrupt our routines it can prompt us to develop new habits. Routines can be useful boosting our productivity and stability but should be chosen carefully. The new year is a great time to take inventory of your day to day routines and decide which ones are worth keeping. 

Monitor Your Behavior – Regularly take an inventory of your successes and failures as you work to decrease unwanted habits. Give yourself multiple options and flexibility as you learn to adapt to various temptations. Actively monitoring your goals and regulate your actions in response to different situations. This provides valuable feedback as you seek to reinforce the behaviors you want to establish.

Imagine Your Future Self – In order to make better decisions in the present, we need to challenge our tendency to prefer rewards now rather than later. Psychologists call this our “present bias.” Intentionally keep your future goals in sight and planning ahead to help reinforce behaviors that will move your toward your goals. It will mitigate our tendency to regress to old habits when we are under pressure.

Set Goals and Deadlines – Foster Support– Establishing self-defined timelines with our goals can help us reinforce behavior changes to develop new habits. It also helps for us to foster peer support. Don’t be afraid to share your goals with your support system. Accountability goes a long way in helping us reinforce our commitments of sustained change, and can add motivation when we are tempted to quit. 

As you consider 2020 and the beginning of a new year, take inventory of your habits.  Which habits are limiting your ability to live your best life? Which habits are moving you to your goals?  Which habits reinforce your own health and wellness?