Resolving for a better year: Consider alternatives to traditional New Year’s resolutions
Published 8:07 am Tuesday, January 2, 2018
January is the season of new year’s resolutions, and for many, it is the season of unfulfilled resolutions.
According to Psychology Today writer Ray Williams, up to 50 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction.
“Making resolutions work is essentially changing behaviors and in order to do that, you have to change your thinking and ‘rewire’ your brain,” Williams writes. “Brain scientists such as Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux and psychotherapist Stephen Hayes have discovered, through the use of MRIs, that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by ‘not trying to do it,’ in effect just strengthens it. Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.”
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Williams offers the following tips for those seeking to follow through on their resolutions:
1. Focus on one resolution, rather several;
2. Set realistic, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 pounds in 90 days would be;
3. Don’t wait till New Year’s eve to make resolutions. Make it a year long process, every day;
4. Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big requiring too big a step all at once;
5. Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to;
6. Celebrate your success between milestones. Don’t wait the goal to be finally completed;
7. Focus your thinking on new behaviors and thought patterns. You have to create new neural pathways in your brain to change habits;
8. Focus on the present. What’s the one thing you can do today, right now, towards your goal?
9. Be mindful. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens,moment by moment, rather than living in the past or future.
Perhaps the best way to avoid failing at a resolution is to forego one entirely and replace it with a new tradition. PT writer Kelly McGonigal suggests the following as fresh alternatives to the traditional resolution:
1. Write yourself a letter from your future self, dated Jan. 1, 2019. Imagine looking back at 2018, from a place of having achieved your most important goal for the year.
In your letter, thank your present self for all you did to achieve your goals — and be specific. Or give yourself some compassionate advice from your wiser, 2019 self.
Research shows connecting to your future self in this way can help you make a difficult change and succeed at your goals.
2. List your favorite memories and triumphs of 2017, including the challenges you faced with courage or humor (even if things didn’t turn out the way you hoped).
Studies show remembering your strengths increases future perseverance and willpower; and reminiscing about the past increases future happiness.
3. Imagine the highlights of 2018. Make a list of at least five things to look forward to in the coming year, big or small. Anything from new episodes of a favorite TV show, a friend’s wedding, taking your kid Trick-or-Treating for the first time, a trip you want to plan. Research shows that one of the best predictors of emotional health is the ability to anticipate and savor future pleasures.
4. Make a list of what you are grateful for in your life. Sure, New Year’s is a great time to think about what you’d like to change about your life. But you’ll be much happier if you first think about everything you’re grateful for.
In fact, if you make a gratitude list first, you might be surprised how it shapes your wish list for 2018.
You will have a clearer sense of what matters most to you, and a better vision of what you want the future to look like.
5. Make a 2018 commitment to someone else. Who says a New Year’s resolution has to be about what’s wrong with you, and how you should change?
Honor something bigger than yourself with a financial commitment to a cause you care about.
Most nonprofit organizations will allow you to pledge a monthly donation for a one-year term.
A side benefit: research shows donating money boosts happiness and self-image— the perfect antidote to the self-critical resolution.