How to make your new years’ resolutions turn into long lasting habits
As the year draws to a close, we can’t help reflecting on what we’ve accomplished over the months; our successes and failures, and our hopes and desires for the year to come.
Oftentimes, we make plans and “resolutions” that we inevitably break because we fail to put in place the necessary habit forming structures which can ensure lasting changes. In fact, there is science to habit making and habit breaking and it lies in the all-important neural pathways in our brains.
Neural pathways are made of many nerve cells which transmit messages in the brain. Each time we repeat an action, the pathways are strengthened and reinforced so that the action becomes “automatic” and therefore less taxing for the brain, an organ which is always looking to save energy. If for example, we reach to certain foods for comfort, this repeated behaviour will form a pathway and a habit. The good news however is that the brain is always changing and can form new neural pathways and let old and outdated ones become weaker. Here are some tips to help you on your way to making your resolutions last the test of time.
Dream big, act small
Having a long term vision for your life provides great motivation for change. However, don’t try to make all the changes in one go. Start with a small, attainable adjustment, and once you manage to maintain it for a set period of time, add in another.
Make choices simple and automatic
Willpower is a finite resource and can be used up by excessive decision making. If you’re looking to change old habits, try to identify the areas of your life in which you can simplify your choices so as not to use up all your valuable willpower. Furthermore, when implementing new behaviours and choices, try to practise them often, in order to strengthen and deepen those neural pathways and make the choices automatic.
Create chains of behaviour
Studies show that “anchoring” your new behaviour to an old habit is a successful way to create lasting changes. For example, instead of “I will do more exercise”, try “when I get home from work, I will get changed and go for a 20 minute walk”. This approach relies on environmental triggers, which serve as a reminder to implement our new habit and help us to visualise putting it into action.
Make a plan for obstacles
Obstacles are bound to come up, that’s life! So it’s useful to anticipate beforehand, and make a plan on how to continue forming and repeating your new habit, even when difficulties present themselves.
Create accountability and look for support
Research has shown that we are more likely to stick to our goals when we’re being observed by others. It’s important to tell someone whose opinion of you matters, about your efforts and ask for their support. Reinforcement and accountability matters!
Build a new identity
We are much more likely to stick to a new habit if we believe that it is a reflection of who we are on the inside. Although we are influenced by others’ opinions, to make lasting changes we need to prove ourselves to ourselves and start believing new things about what we can be and what we can achieve. If we think that we are the type of person that is healthy and active, we are more likely to stick at those newly formed habits for a lifetime!