Wednesday, February 19, 2020

REVIVE THOSE NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS: The Science To Make Them Stick


So you made those New Year's Resolutions and maybe they've taken a little bit of a slide—or disappeared altogether. Now what?

January is that time of year when a lot of us take stock and create a resolution to change and by February you may be struggling. If you're like me you sit down and write a list that goes along the lines of I'm going to... (cook more, train better, organize the house). Feeling motivated on that first week, when the schools are closed, the city is quiet, and the gifts of clothes need to find space in the closet, we dive in. Unfortunately, statistics give the grim truth;  most of us will not keep these new habits going past January.

This year I decided to delve into the science of change. How do we form new habits and what does it take to change old ones? I've read lots of advice over the years, but this article from Psychology Today by behavioral scientist Susan Weinschenk Phd gave a list of concrete ways to keep these resolutions moving forward. And what I loved about it is that it notes the power of the stories we tell ourselves. As writers we know what power stories have, so it was great to read that science supports their importance as well.

First, start small:  

The first step, apparently, is to start small. People tend to write "Exercise more" which is a large category and could mean anything. Scientists say that we need to write something more along the lines of small change. For example, if you don't exercise at all perhaps write "Walk to the bus and take stairs up two flights."   

Second, tie the new habit to an existing one:

The theory is that you've already may tons of habits during the course of your life so of course you can start a new one. Makes sense, right? But habits don't come out of thin air, so tying the new one to something established will help. 

I think this is brilliance. Last year I wanted to change my training schedule, which was geared toward running, to incorporate more weight training. I made the resolution and joined a gym near my house. The problem was, I'm not all that interested in weight training and indoor training, so I rarely went. And when I did go, I ended up running on a treadmill rather than weight training. 

One day I was running on a track in a new park and came across an outdoor gym. I stopped and tried to "walk" on my hands across the parallel bars, do the dips, tried to do a chin up on the chin up bar (no chance, not even one!) swing on the monkey bars, etc. All of these exercises incorporated lifting my body weight. It was surprisingly difficult. Really, really difficult. After that first attempt I made a point to run that track every other day and to stop to try again. Within three months (long, I know) I was able to work the entire body weight circuit and I noticed a change in my upper body strength. While the pull up is still a challenge, I'm planing on keeping at it until I can do at least two or three in a row. I actually look forward to the days I run to the outdoor gym. A bonus: I cancelled my gym membership and saved that monthly fee. I now realize that by tying the new habit to my existing running schedule was the key. 

Third, take note and change your self story: 

This is a fascinating idea. According to the article, we all have a self story that we think defines us and this story drives a lot of our behavior. In fact, we will subconsciously do things to support this story, even if what we do is ultimately bad for us. Changing an existing story, even if the change is beneficial, creates unease. Rather than feel this, we default back to the familiar, bad habit. Scientists suggest that we first write down our self story and then create another that matches the new changes we wish to make. 

So if your story is "I'm not an athlete, other people are," we subconsciously keep this front and center. However, if you want to try an athletic endeavor, then you will have to rewrite a self story that says, "In the past I wasn't an athlete, but I never really tried it for long and now I'll give it a year."

In short, stories are powerful, but changing them to fit the new you, or the you that you aspire to be is possible and beneficial. This suggestion seems too easy to be true, but if science says it works I'm willing to give it a try! 

I hope your resolution stuck, but if they didn't, maybe science will help. And if you have anymore tips to keep those resolutions going, please leave them in the comments. I would love to hear them!

May your 2020 and beyond be happy, healthy and filled with joy.

Best, Jamie Freveletti

8 comments:

  1. What strikes me most is that the changes you made were incremental. They started with a small change toward something you wanted to achieve and morphed into something bigger--something that stuck! For what it's worth, I made the first step today. Instead of paying for the gym membership that's never used, I called and made an appointment with a trainer to help design a fitness program for me and then walk me through it day after day for a bit. The ultimate goal, to get my knees strong enough to play tennis again. Thanks for the inspiration.

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    1. Great idea. I wish I'd done that. That gym membership I bought was costly and unused. Good luck and hope you're playing tennis again this summer!

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  2. Terrific tips, Jamie. The psychology, and the advancement of goals, is wonderful.

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  3. You are so right, Jamie, that most people make - then break -- New Year's resolutions. One example that I think is rather obvious: the first week of a New Year we see a ton of TV ads for weight loss programs -- "Buy our food and lose 50 pounds" (or whatever). However by the first of February, those ads disappear since their "appeal" diminishes. But your suggestions about taking incremental steps certainly make sense - and are quite an inspiration. Thanks for a great post.

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    1. Oh yes, I've seen those ads. Since I'm not a great cook, they always look tempting. So far, I've resisted. We'll see if one day I take the plunge. If I do, I'll post about it!

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  4. This is very interesting! Especially the part about the self story. I think the hardest part is figuring out what you want to change TO.

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    1. Yes, that's true, isn't it? Seems as though there's a world of possibilities, but according to the scientists, that exactly the problem!

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