For many, the 1st of January is seen as an opportunity to hit the reset button on habits we wish to adopt to improve our lives. Some of the most common resolutions that people make around New Year are losing weight, making more time for family or friends, exercising, participating in “dry January”, etc.
People make New Year resolutions to make changes to areas of their lives they are unhappy with. Those resolutions range from improving health by exercising more and eating better by meal prepping and cooking at home to grabbing control over their spending with increased savings for retirement or holidays. Others may choose to improve their spirituality by living more mindfully to give more meaning to their humdrum lives. Others choose to quit smoking, read more books or learn a new skill.
Another common practice or resolution that many embark on especially after the partying of the festive season is the ‘dry January’ challenge.
This concept originated in 2012 by a British charity to “ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline and save some serious money by giving up alcohol for 31 days.” Its popularity increased over the years and now thousands of people worldwide take part in this challenge each year.
Alcohol has become such a pivotal part of our social culture and consumption has slowly increased over the years. Thus, a dry January may be just the thing to keep your intake in check. The health benefits are numerous with improved sleep, better weight control and improved health and energy levels being some of the perks of teetotaling.
Canada has recently released new alcohol guidelines which suggest no more than two alcoholic drinks per week. This is a steep drop from previous limits (14 units per week has often been the usual advice)!
No matter how determined we are at the kickoff most of us fail to make it past the first few days. Is it that we are weak-willed and doomed to fail or is our failure to stick to new resolutions more complicated?
The first reason could be that you are not ready to make the change. Most people are pressured into making new year’s resolutions either by others or by the general sentiment of the end-of-year holidays. The changes or habits they wish to adopt are not personal but rather a generalization that means nothing personally. Also, the readiness to adopt a new habit does not necessarily, magically, coincide with the first day of the new year.
Not tracking your success at following your resolution can feel like you’re making no progress at all even when you may be making decent headway. Use an app or record your progress in a journal and this will motivate you to stick with it because the changes will be measurable.
Have a plan in place for the times you slip, and you will. Even successful people slip up before the new habit is fully adopted. If you have a set of actions in place before you slip, it will be easier to get on track quickly after a minor slip-up. Keep a record of what triggered a relapse and how you will overcome it if faced with the same trigger in the future.
Being overconfident in your willpower may be a downside. You have to accept that you may and will fail a few times until the habit becomes fully ingrained in your life.
Every change you make means that you have to give something up. For example, getting up early to hit the gym means you will lose out on snoozing. This is the cost of implementing a new habit. Acknowledge what you will be giving up and this will help remind you of the value of the new change you’re trying to instil.
If the resolution you chose is too difficult you may set yourself up for failure. Rather than making a grand and seemingly unachievable change like “lose a lot of weight”, break it up into smaller more manageable chunks so that they are easier to achieve. Examples of this are: using the stairs rather than the elevator and eating more salad at lunchtime. These smaller goals are easier to implement and maintain, and the end product will be weight loss.
The new habit you wish to introduce must be attached to an existing habit that is already well-established. An example of this would be to add an extra 10 minutes of walking to your already-established habit of walking three times per week. The existing habit is the cue to trigger the new habit. Attaching the two habits will improve the chances of the new habit becoming permanent.
The first three to seven times you practice the new habit will be difficult so simplify adopting the new behaviour by making it easy. You can write a note to remind yourself to walk further, buy the salad ingredients and keep them handy during your lunch hour, keep your gym clothes ready in the morning, etc. These actions ensure the new habit sticks.
Remember to celebrate your successes. Acknowledging your achievements, however small, creates a positive mindset and establishes a cycle of success.
It may be handy to have a buddy system. A sturdy support system can help keep you accountable and motivated. For example, having a gym buddy will stop you from skipping workouts.
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