Hands up. How many of us have promised to change ourselves as our calendars flick over into a New Year? Whether we quit drink, cut out bad foods, try to lose the extra pounds of fat or embark on a task of getting fit and strong; we’ve all been guilty of writing our own sets of resolutions. But then again, how many of us have been found a week into the New Year sucking on chocolate liquors as we struggle to beat our demons and feel the overwhelming pressure of trying to be a better person? Maybe, in order to be more successful at creating positive changes in our life, we should plan ahead on how we can stay on track. Here are some ideas I’ve found on how you can keep your resolutions going strong into 2018 and beyond.
The first is perhaps a difficult and testing one because it demands willpower – by delaying rewarding ourselves we’re more likely to choose healthier habits. Nearly six decades ago, Walter Mischel conducted an experiment that showed children created new habits to distract themselves from sweet treats in order to gain a bigger basket of rewards. Instead of going straight to the biscuit tin when you get a new craving, find something else to do to distract you in the promise that you’ll benefit later. But how exactly can we create these new habits and find the strength to keep going?
By finding out why these habits are triggered, we can begin to find alternative solutions when we find ourselves digging out the vodka. We can look at the bigger picture as to why we might crave something, are we bored? Are we anxious? Is it at the same time of day? On a subconscious level these habits become hard wired and only when we step outside of ourselves can we identify how we can adapt in order to break them.
There are three steps we go through with our habitual responses: cue, routine and reward. For example, you’re halfway through writing a coursework, you’re at a dead end and you’re bored. So, what do you do? You go to the kitchen and put the kettle on and in doing so decide that it’s time to sneak a cheeky biscuit from the tin and the sugar rush becomes your prize. This will quickly become a habit as you regularly pop the kettle on and so in turn, becomes a difficult one to shake as you become accustomed to your sweet fix every time you go in the kitchen. Plus, we all know, you can never have just one Hobnob.
While it may seem obvious to mentally reward yourself after going for a run or avoiding that packet of cigarettes, it is a way we can train ourselves in order to feel the benefits of these new habits. Writing down a list every time you do good work of why you feel better and going back to see these pointers may encourage you to go for that jog again, or if you feel tempted by cravings, note down why you shouldn’t. Or, give yourself physical clues to remind you to act out these new habits, put your trainers by the door so you can put them on and go, instead of finding an excuse to avoid that run because it isn’t easily available.
By introducing a positive routine, we can feel the benefits almost threefold. It will not only introduce new healthy habits into our life but will improve our mental well-being and encourage us to become more productive. Instead of having that cigarette, go for a walk and instead of reaching for the biscuit tin, find healthier snacks or fruit to satisfy those sweet cravings. Plan your evenings so you aren’t bored in front of the television, find a book to read or a new hobby such as painting or knitting. And in return, don’t forget to reward yourself for taking on these new habits. Whether it be treating yourself to a bubble bath or putting a couple of quid to save for a bigger prize, by encouraging new positive changes and identifying how you’re improving, perhaps your resolutions will last a bit longer and maybe you will start to feel like a stronger, happier and healthier new you in 2018.
Katie Bagshawe is currently pursuing her MSc Psychology degree Sheffield Hallam University after completing a BSc Computing degree from the University of Cumbria. After acting as her father’s carer in his final years with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, she has become impassioned to do research in the Psychological impact of Progressive Lung Disease and hopes to continue doing a PhD in the same research area. You can connect with her on Twitter @KBagshawe
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