Every new year, hundreds of thousands of people resolve to make a New Year’s resolution, whether it be to quit a bad habit, lose weight, travel, or make amends with an estranged loved one. There are endless types of resolutions, and many will be kept while others will fall entirely to the side, regrettably unmet or forgotten in the hustle of daily life or the feeling of defeat. If you’re bent on keeping your New Year’s resolution, whatever it may be, psychologists say you need a well thought out plan, not just the declaration of what you wish to accomplish, reports NBC News.
Just wishing for something to happen will not bring results. A person has to make their resolution a reality with a plan of realistic action, says psychology professor John Norcross, who currently teaches at Scranton University. Norcross is also the author of hit book Changeology: 5 Steps To Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions. He has devoted his 30 years of study to resolutions specifically and touts himself as a definite expert.
According to Norcross, only about 40 percent of the global population sticks to their New Year’s resolution, whatever it may be. Most usually begin dipping in and out after about six months. He states that in about three months, those who are working diligently with a realistic plan of action will see their new routine begin to settle in. The key is sticking to your plan.
“If you make it to then, you’re likely to maintain your resolution for life. But you need an actionable plan to get there.”
Norcross’s tip to being realistic and planning ahead is to record and track your progress. This is because self-monitoring increases anyone’s chances at success, says Norcross. He also remarked that those who are successful have begun their planning of goals a week before January 1.
“They are the people who are planning for a resolution, not just wishing at 12:01 a.m. A resolution isn’t a wish, it’s not a dream. It’s identifiable behavior that you can work on. “
According to Norcross and Elliot Berkman, the director of the University of Oregon’s social and affective neuroscience lab, a person’s resolution should focus on using the same reward system set forth to form a new habit. So what system is that exactly? Berkman says to undo a bad habit, one must replace it with a new one that is actually good or healthy.
“Habits are basically behaviors that become entrenched because of our very evolutionarily ancient reward learning system.”
Habits form when specific behaviors are consistently rewarded, stated Berkman. One example is to stop smoking. Berkman says that you must replace the cravings with another fix such as exercise or chewing gum. His tip is to reinforce the milestones in healthier ways. For instance, if your resolution is to lose weight, reward yourself with a healthy snack for every five pounds lost. Then continue to stick with your plan to reinforce healthier habits.
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