The American Psychological Association has five recommendations for anyone looking to make a New Year’s resolution and stick to it — we break them down with our own flavor!
It’s that time of year again — people sign up for gyms, start smoking cessation programs, order boxes of food provided by a specific diet system, buy a book — and then poof, come February a majority of those people aren’t in the gym anymore, they’re back to smoking, they’re eating a Big Mac, and they’ve read a third of one book.
Let’s talk a bit about New Year’s Resolutions. For some, they work very well as the starting block from which kick off a marathon of lifestyle change. I myself subscribe so closely to the “start today since it’s too late to start yesterday” school of thought around almost anything, and yet I freely admit to you that I’ve fairly minimal discipline in my own diet in the past few weeks over the holidays, and have been putting it off until the new year. I’ll talk about my reasoning for that shorty; the point is, most of the time you’re better off just starting the very moment the thought creeps into your head that you can “be better” or “get better” in some way, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong at all with setting a New Year’s Resolution. For people who aren’t in the habit of developing new habits, it might be wasted effort to enact a change in the middle of the day on a random Wednesday in October.
For anyone reading or listening that falls into this camp, let’s do two things with the opportunity we get to mentally and maybe physically “reset” in the new year: ensure the habit behind the resolution actually sticks, and develop from it the tools to take on new personal improvements at any point in 2018, even if they weren’t on your original resolutions list.
Making the Resolution Stick
The American Psychological Association recommends five steps or components to helping make a resolution stick. The first is to start small, which I personally agree with as a great starting point.
Of course you want to aim high in life and all that good stuff, but at the same time, pie-in-the-sky goals that are a lot to take on at once may seem daunting and, particularly for those who haven’t yet gotten themselves into the habit of developing good habits, can lead to simply quitting on the goal. I think this is the mistake many people make when they sign up at a gym in the first week of January: I’m going to lose 100 pounds this year / I’m going to have washboard abs by the summer / I’m going to run an Ultra Marathon in June. And then the work kicks in, and it’s going well at first — everyone knows the age-old joke about “Resolutioners” showing up in the gym, causing January to be the most crowded any gym has ever been, then things revert to normal by February.
I understand the humor in it, but I don’t see what’s funny. People gave up on their goals after so little time and effort, and I think a lot of this is due to the fact that new habit formation — and the positive results that come from it — doesn’t happen overnight. You set out to lose 100 pounds that year through better diet and exercise, and three weeks in you’ve only lost 3 pounds and you give up. But guess what? That’s a pound a week. That’s 52 pounds in a year without any change from what was happening at the beginning of the habit formation process where you’re probably going to be at your lowest actual capability and skill. You might think to yourself that losing weight will only get harder over time because you’ll have less to lose. And sure, motivation might be at a high the first week you sign up at the gym, but your knowledge and momentum and ability are very likely to be totally ground-floor. If you’re losing a pound a week in the first 3 weeks, imagine where you can end up a few weeks or months later when you actually know how the “inny-outy” machine at the gym works, and when your experimenting with new diets leads you to strategies you’ve never heard of like intermittent fasting, and when you try it you find that you feel fantastic doing it and it accelerates your fat loss 200% from where you were when you first started and had no clue where to start or tried to do too much too soon.
So set that big goal, and break it down into a bunch of tiny parts. If you weigh 300 pounds and you want to lose 100 pounds in 2018, expect to spend the whole year doing it. That’s an average of less than 2 pounds a week, which in terms of calories doesn’t at all translate to making some huge drastic change where you go from zero exercise and 5,000 calories a day to 2 hours a day and sustaining off of nothing but lightly salted kale. Of course I have to mention that this isn’t professional nutrition or exercise advise and you should consult a professional, but doing from 300 to 200 pounds losing less than 2 pounds a week likely just means 30 minutes of low-impact exercise a day to burn a few hundred calories and cutting out or trading out a few components of your diet such as swapping the sodas for sparkling water and choosing a smaller portion or lower calorie option for lunch and dinner. Every single person is different and will respond to different things in different ways, but the point here is that breaking down a larger goal into smaller components makes it much less daunting and much easier to stay the course and keep from getting discouraged. To lose 2 pounds a week is a much easier finish line to envision and when you succeed, you can be happy about it. To go as hard as you can out the gate then finding that by late January you’ve only lost 4 pounds might make the task seem too big to handle. Start small with whatever resolutions you’re setting out to do.
Change One Behavior at a Time
The second suggestion from the APA is to change one behavior at a time. I’m not as into this step as the first, but I understand why the suggestion is there. To run with the example of weight loss since I think that’s a generally common or at least easily understood resolution, it takes a long time to gain a lot of weight, but it can come off faster. It may take several years of bad decisions to go from 200 to 300 pounds, so it may take several years to reverse the trend. The reason the APA recommends this strategy of only focusing on one behavior at a time is the same as the first suggestion: they don’t want you to come out the 2018 gate running full speed ahead toward changing everything about your life then finding that to be too overwhelming an undertaking and giving up. While I agree with a focused approach, I don’t necessarily think only a single goal can be pursued at once, particularly if you’re more experienced in new habit formation or if you’ve begun to see success in the first pursuit and want to chain that momentum into another. The truth is that many bad habits develop over years — poor diet, smoking, not exercising etc. — but can be reversed in much less time. Focus in on a single behavior at first, but use the momentum of your success there to take on another goal, provided you have multiple resolutions. Indeed, if you’re new to developing good habits, trying to take on five big life changes simultaneously may prove too much and lead to giving up on all five, so it definitely is in your own best interest to start with one.
Talk About It
Accountability and social pressure are powerful forces, and fortunately you can use them as tools for your own advantage. The moment you put something out into the world and someone you love is holding you to it — or maybe even if you just imagine that they are — you will very likely feel more compelled to follow through. I personally use this strategy against myself intentionally for both things I do and don’t want to do. Right before heading into this holiday break, I told my manager all of the things I would accomplish with that last Friday before I took off for a week and a half. By the time I got home, I had finished all but one of those tasks, and it was one I was not particularly keen on doing. But hey, I told my manager I’d do it, and even though she said it’s cool if I didn’t, I’m not some weak “over-promise and under-deliver” type guy now am I? I finished the task and it took until 7 pm the Friday before the whole Christmas and New Year break, but I felt much lighter — and much less guilty — than if I had left it to handle when I got back to work in the new year.
Even this very podcast and blog was born of similar pressure. I had the idea in the summer of 2016 and began chipping away at planning all of the episode types and topics I could do. I’d work on it just a little bit each week and gradually it was taking shape, but in months I had done little more than write out a checklist of things that ultimately were unstarted. In late 2016 I told Steve I had this idea for a holistic self-improvement podcast and he basically said, “Man, that’s an awesome idea, and I’ve been wanting to do something like a podcast for a while now so if you wanted my help with the audio editing or website it’d be great to work on it together.” In the following days I did more work on the podcast than I had in the prior months combined, and we’d written and recorded the first several months of content before New Year’s 2017. Which, side note, does make this episode the official one-year birthday of The Wealthy Healthy! The point of all of this is, telling your friends, telling your family, joining a support group, joining a club around the cause, any manner of putting your goals out into the world and especially into the minds of those you love and who love you back will make it more likely that you put the pressure on yourself not to let them down. Saying it or writing it makes it real, and it feels so much better to be the person who crushed a resolution than to have to face everyone you told and admit that you gave up after a month.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Oh boy! We talked about this in a recent episode titled, “4 Rules to Turn Your Life Around,” which is one of our most well-received podcast episodes in our first year of existence. With any life change, any habit formation, any task or undertaking, you will encounter difficulties and road bumps and failures. It is so vital that you take time to forgive yourself and press forward. Allowing yourself to fall into negative self-talk is for most people a vicious cycle that will ultimately lead not just to failure toward the goal, but will also just make you feel terrible about yourself in the process. If you’re aiming to lose weight and you have yourself on a strict regimen and two weeks in you cave and have a donut and an ice cream while out with your friends. The absolute worst thing you can do — and I’ve done this myself and watched so many people do it — is tell yourself in one way or another, “Well I’ve failed, I’m not strong enough to do this, I’m not cut out for this, I’m always going to be terrible in this capacity so I might as well just give up trying.” Usually this is met with going way off the deep end; you can notice these people in your own life as the ones who set out on a goal like eating better, having one trip-up, and then for the rest of that day they just eat the worst they can possibly eat. You need to be able to reset yourself, even if you go off the deep end for a day. If you can’t reset yourself, have friends who can help reset you; if you can, help your friends reset themselves. Falling off the wagon doesn’t mean you should lay on the ground and surrender; you can, for nearly any resolution you have in mind, simply dust yourself off and climb back on the wagon.
Ask For Support
The final suggestion by the APA for making a resolution stick is pretty similar to the last few in some rather obvious ways, so I won’t bore you any more than is necessary. This is self-explanatory; it’s okay to lean on loved ones or hired professionals to keep you on track. You may be the type of person who doesn’t need social pressure to achieve a goal and that’s fine. I’m that way with most things myself. But there are definitely people who can’t take these things on alone, or who just do so much better with others around. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t want to read, but will read anything for a book club, or who hates to exercise but will give it your all three days a week at a group spin class, ask for or find support. It will make a huge huge difference if you, like probably most people, are motivated by doing things with others, getting help from them and helping them in return. Ask for support.
So to summarize the strategy for sticking to your resolutions: start small, focus on only one task at first, put it out in the world, don’t be too hard on yourself when you trip up, and ask for or seek social support. To our wonderful readers and listeners, Happy New Year and we are so honored to have your attention and time and interaction as we release new episodes each week. This year we are going to try to go bigger and better and provide you more content so please stay tuned for that. Aside from listening or reading each week, the best place to see updates is by following us on Instagram @TheWealthyHealthy, and don’t forget to check us out online at thewealthyhealthy.co.
Be good and be great everyone, again Happy New Year to all of you and if you have a resolution or two you’re looking to beat, get out there and beat it. No better time than right now.