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It’s that time of the year again where we reflect back on our year and make some fresh resolutions for the New Year.  Are you thinking about losing weight and exercising more?  But déjà-vu…. Hasn’t this happened a couple times over?  Why do we keep making the same New Year’s resolutions?  Research has shown that about half of all adults make New Year’s resolutions, but less than 10% manage to keep them for more than a few months. So where are we going wrong?

The main reason people don’t stick to their resolutions is that they set unrealistic goals. Our resolutions normally need lifestyle changes, and we know that changing behaviours is difficult to do.  But when we make our resolutions we forget to look at how challenging they are to achieve and what kind of behaviour changes are required.

Resolutions can also fail if you are not ready to change the behaviours.  Do you want to eat healthier, or do you just think you should be eating healthier?  Another common reason for failed resolutions is because you may think that if you change a behaviour (such as exercising more and losing weight), your entire life will change.  But it doesn’t, and when you realise this you may get discouraged and relapse into old behaviours.

When it comes to health, all-or-nothing goals with unrealistic expectations that don’t fit into your lifestyle will set you up for failure. So how can we go about making this year’s New Year’s Resolutions stick?

Make your resolutions SMART

We all know about SMART goals, that is, the goal must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.  And your resolutions shouldn’t be any different.  A resolution of eating no more sugar, though admirable, is not SMART.  A SMART goal would be to have no more than 2-3 small treats per week.  Look at your resolutions and see if you can’t make them a little SMARTer to make them more realistic. 

Make your resolutions small lifestyle changes

Our resolutions are often too ambitious, and we end up becoming discouraged and giving up.  A good idea is to break the resolution into smaller, more manageable lifestyle changes.   Instead of a goal of not eating carbs anymore, break it into a smaller goal of cutting carbs out of most of your dinner meals, thereby not taking away quick and easy options such as oats in the morning or a baked potato for lunch.  Look at your resolutions and find smaller achievable goals that are easier to change and will help you to get to your resolution over time.

Make one change at a time

Trying to change too many things at one time can leave you feeling overwhelmed.  If you want to eat healthier, stop drinking, exercise more and give up smoking, choose a one to three small changes within these broader goals and do your best to stick to them for a couple of weeks.  Once you have those under control, add a couple more.  In this way you will be working on improving your health over the year and not feel like you didn’t manage anything when you reflect at the end of the year.

Don’t have strict rules

Changing your behaviour takes time, dedication and mindfulness, and our lives aren’t always running perfectly to make this easy.  Don’t limit yourself to strict rules.  Extremes such as NO treats or NO alcohol generally don’t work.  Your lifestyle needs flexibility.  You can have your favourite food, or enjoy a meal out with family or friends, but work on not overindulging so that they can play a role in your life.

Don’t get derailed by slips

Remember that you are human.  You will slip from time to time.  But that doesn’t mean that you have failed.  It just means that you need to be more careful the next day or week.  If you are trying to eat less junk food and you slip on holiday, let it go and carry on with the healthier habits once you are back home.  Use your slips to learn how to manage tough situations and know that if you are mindful, you are definitely doing better than before!  Each day is a new day to get back into your healthier routine.

Change your thinking

To change your behaviours you have to change your thinking around the behaviours.  Neuroscientists have discovered that habits are created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories.  Change therefore requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.  So instead of saying ‘I’m not going to drink anymore’, rather say ‘I am only going to drink on the weekends’.

Change can feel overwhelming, especially when your day to day life feels chaotic.  Make small changes over time.  Divide your resolution into a number of small goals that you can tackle over time.  It’s easy if you are patient with yourself and forgive yourself when things don’t work out perfectly.  Go ahead, I dare you to try it!