If 2022 is drawing to a close and you realize you haven’t lived up to most of those promises you made at the last turn of the year, don’t be discouraged. Science can give you a little nudge to make sure 2023 is different. Save money, lose weight, read more books, get a new job, start exercising, study. Any self-respecting person carries a list of New Year’s resolutions on the tip of their tongue.
The problem is that making a will out of paper is usually more complicated than it looks. A survey showed that 88% of people usually give up the new habit as early as February of the following year. Another study conducted at the University of Scranton in the USA went even further and found that only 8% actually managed to keep their promises. This leads to repeating certain desires year after year, without leaving the list of goals to be achieved.
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This happens because we tend to overestimate our ability to change. Thus, we end up setting unrealistic goals. It was so common that it earned a name: “false hope syndrome,” as described by a pair of researchers from the University of Toronto, Canada, in this scientific article. The good news is that in addition to pointing fingers at your inability to get your butt off the couch, science also has some tips for increasing your chances of success. Let’s go to them.
one thing at a time
Does your promise list contain more than 10 items? You should break your head to narrow it down. Since each goal takes a great deal of time and energy to achieve success, racking up too many aspirations can mean doing nothing right. A good order is to keep things simple, to focus on one goal — one that is specific and, above all, reasonable. Which brings us to Item 2.
Don’t think too much – at least at first
It’s better to put it in your mind: “I’m going to run 10 km” than, of course, “I’m going to start jogging.” However, at the same time, it is worth asking the question: “Can I really run 10 km without dying in the process?”. Starting with shorter exercises and, over time, increasing your pace will make things easier—and give the impression that you’re making progress.
The author of Smart Change, Art Markman, stresses the importance of making new habits easier to implement while making old habits difficult. Want to start running after hours? Always leave your sneakers and tracksuits in your backpack. Do you want to be less consuming? Avoid spending too much time dating that little guy online shopping or walking around the mall.
Telling a friend or posting on social media about your New Year’s resolution feels like an obligation. This can act as a trigger: When you have a diet relapse or fail to finish a scheduled reading for the month, you might think that you’re not only going to disappoint you—but someone who supports you. Maybe a little dramatic. But it works.
Create small “penalties”.
Rory Faden, self-discipline expert and author of Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success, amplifies the above advice by suggesting something intriguing. Have some punishment up your sleeve to do whenever you hesitate on your target. It could be giving someone a gift, going through a ridiculous situation on purpose, or donating a small amount to charity, for example. Anything that makes you think twice before going off the rails again.
Paying attention to the small victories and rewarding yourself after completing a step can give you an extra dose of motivation. That’s what Chris Bailey, author of The New Year’s Resolutions Guide to A Productive Life, argues. Did you manage to save more money than planned for this month? It might be a good idea to escape from the routine and go out to dinner somewhere different, for example.
Allow yourself to try again
Finally, it is worth remembering that everything is a matter of perspective. Nothing changes at the turn of 2019 to 2020, and in a magical passage, you become the perfect version of yourself. But changing the year in the calendar somehow motivates us to do things differently. The good part is that, as cliché as it sounds, each new cycle can be an opportunity for change — even if it only lasts the first few weeks. January 2021, after all, is there.
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