Health Agenda

Mental Health

How to make resolutions that last

A new year can be a good time to make positive changes to your life and health habits. Here’s how to make New Year’s resolutions stick.

Charmaine Yabsley
January 2018

Many of us start a new year resolving to be healthier. But few of us – less than 10% in fact – actually stick to our resolutions. 

“It’s traditional to set new goals at the beginning of the year, when there's the potential for better days to come,” says clinical psychologist Dr Lillian Nejad. “Humans are inherently hopeful, and, because of this, we’re predisposed to striving to do better and be better.”

Of course, ‘better’ means different things to different people: advancing in your career, achieving a goal, developing a healthier mind and body, having positive relationships or perhaps simply performing acts of kindness.

“When we set goals every year,” says Dr Nejad, “it comes from a place of hope and optimism that these goals are achievable if we want them enough.” 

Forming habits takes time

Many people believe it takes 21 days for a habit to stick, but according to Dr Nejad, there’s no magic number. One small study concluded that it takes 66 days for a new habit to stick on average (although this varied between 18 to 254 days).

“The time it takes for new habits to form is largely dependent on a variety of factors: the person, the complexity of the behaviour, the individual circumstances. It may take only a few weeks for some behaviours to become part of your routine and others may take a year to become ingrained.”

Change can be challenging

If you’re looking to establish new habits this year, Dr Nejad offers the following advice: “Expect failure. Setbacks are a normal part of the change process. Optimism and persistence are important qualities to harness during the change process.”

Visualising success can be a powerful tool. Imagine you’ve achieved your goal and keep this image in your mind if you lose motivation.

Exercise physiologist and personal trainer Neil Russell adds that if you ‘fall off the wagon’, don’t think you have to give up on your goal. For example, 1 day of unhealthy eating doesn’t cancel out the previous days of healthy eating. Focus instead on what you’ve achieved so far. And if your goal is proving impossible to reach, change it to a more achievable one.

How to set realistic goals

Be specific: “Rather than ‘I want to be healthier’, it's more helpful to pinpoint how you'll achieve this, such as eating 3 more servings of vegetables a week or walking 10,000 steps a day,” says Dr Nejad.

Make your goals measurable: “Find a way to track your goal to measure steps toward success, whether it's scales, using your clothes to measure weight loss or the distances you walk or run,” says Russell.

Make it personal: Make sure your goal is based on what is achievable for you, not other people’s standards or abilities.

Ask for help: “If you tend to be a perfectionist in your expectations of yourself, it may be helpful to ask for assistance to set more realistic goals, from a good friend, family member or professional,” says Dr Nejad.

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