What makes new year resolutions so damn hard to maintain?
Many studies have examined habit forming and on average it can take anywhere from 3-6 months of performing the habit daily to form a consistent new habit. That’s a long time when living in a world where we are surrounded by instant gratification! Most of us tend to seek out short term solutions to our problems as the gratification we receive is instant. Despite our desires to seek out the quickest way to receive those feel-good chemicals, most of us can acknowledge that long term solutions are more beneficial than short term. Sticking to and following through with a long-term solution is a whole different story though.
Another factor that plays against you when setting a new year’s resolution is your brain. That’s right! Your own brain is even against you! Our brain loves to be rewarded and the more instant the reward the easier and faster a habit can be formed. A prime example of this occurs when we eat something sweet like a cookie. Our brain gets a boost of those feel-good chemicals [Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Endorphins] when eating said cookie thus creating a positive link that cookies equal some level of happiness. However, in the long term we know that cookies cannot always make us happy and in some instances, eating to many of them can even make us feel miserable. There in showing how the short-term rewards can cause us to over look some of the long-term consequences that we may experience.
How to set small habits that are easy to maintain that work towards a larger goal.
The best way to take advantage of your brain’s desire to receive rewards is to implement those into new habits you are trying to create. For example, try to only allow yourself to watch Netflix while walking on the treadmill, or grab a coffee of choice after completing 30 minutes of exercise while at the gym. By coupling more instant rewards with tasks that are not as initially rewarding can help to spur motivation for achieving the long-term goals you set for yourself.
Another important aspect to help you reach your long-term goals is to set SMART short-term and long-term goals. By creating SMART short-term goals, you make the path to achieving your long-term goal less overwhelming. Below is a breakdown of what SMART goals are.
Specific: By determining who, what, where, when and how you increase the chances of being able to accomplish your goals. [Specific: I would like to start training everyday to run a marathon].
Measurable: Make sure you develop criteria for measuring your progress towards your goals. By tracking progress in a measurable way, you be able to visually see the progress that you are making even on days when you feel like you haven’t made any progress at all. [Measurable: I will use my fitness app to track my training progress as my mileage increases].
Achievable: Create goals that you already have the skills and resources needed to complete. By starting small and working to achieve short-term goals you will find it easier to fuel yourself to keep pushing forward. The more you achieve the more you will want to keep pushing yourself in new directions! [Attainable: I have already run a half-marathon this year, so I have a solid base level of fitness]
Relevant: Make sure that your short-term goals align to help you achieve your larger long-term goal. If your short-term goals are out of line, it can be discouraging and make it hard to stick to your plan. [I value my health and wellness and this is a goal that will help me sustain that].
Time-based: Give yourself adequate and appropriate time to complete your goals. By allowing yourself to have appropriate deadlines to reach your goals you will be more motivated to continue to push forward. Unrealistic deadlines can lead to failure and that can create a downward spiral leading you back to square one. Keep the ball rolling by scheduling out your short-term goals on your calendar and having a definite end date for your long-term goal. [Time-bound: The marathon is a year away, so I need to be ready to go by then].
Creating new life habits and working to change your overall lifestyle can be difficult but you don’t have to do it alone. Enlist the help of others! Ask your family members or friends to join you, or join an online accountability group that shares similar goals to you. Having external support can be a major difference when working to change for the better. Also, if you notice there are mental health struggles that get in the way of achieving your goals don’t hesitate to reach out. There are many mental health providers out there more than willing to help you reach the goals you have for yourself.