Making your resolution stick

Written by Michelle Robinson

Welcome to a year that is bright with new possibilities.

Like a blank canvas, the beginning of 2022 offers us opportunities to shape the direction of our lives. Sometimes, we choose to change direction by making a ‘new resolution’.

Unfortunately, research shows that over 60% of resolutions don’t last. They fade away like the motivation that inspired them.

In this month’s Life-Chat, I’m going to help you have the best chance of success with any positive strategy or habit you might choose to add to your life.

A resolution often involves moving away from something we don’t want, so that something more positive may take its place.

This is especially true for decisions about improving our well-being through sensible weight loss, smoking cessation, a focus on fitness, a decision to reduce alcohol consumption and so on.

A habit or behaviour that we no longer want in our lives is identified, and a new habit or behaviour is chosen to replace it. It seems straightforward enough. However, if it was easy, there would be many fewer smokers, yo-yo dieters, hung-over weekenders and unfit Australians still pondering why their helpful resolutions failed them.

Retraining the brain away from one behaviour and way of thinking, towards another behaviour and way of thinking takes discipline, persistence, and time.

New neural pathways require at least 90 days to replace the pathways that already reinforce that old unwanted behaviour. If you falter in willpower before at least three months have passed, then you have already lost your chance of success. Old habits regain control.

The good news is that you can vastly improve the odds of transitioning a new resolution into a long-term behaviour. Here are my top strategies.

Mentally Prepare: Before you take the plunge with your resolution, focus on two things: why you wish to make a change, and the benefits of doing so.

If there are drawbacks to a current behaviour, really feel those drawbacks and ‘rev yourself up’ so that you feel determined to put an end to it.

Next, mentally rehearse, as often as you can, the benefits of your new, chosen behaviour. Imagine your strongest benefits as if you already have success. This mental rehearsal is critical for brain training and forming new neural pathways. Finally, write or display these benefits where you can see them. Refer to them often.

Link your new habit with an established routine: If you are adding a new habit, pair that new habit with a behaviour you regularly do at a specific time. For example, you might add a walk to your morning routine right after you have breakfast. Since breakfast is already a regular habit, pairing a walk with it is easier than attempting to introduce a daily walk at random times.

Replace an unhelpful habit with new options: Removing a habit without some options to replace it leaves you vulnerable to moments of weakness and indecision.

Work out a range of acceptable options to fill the gap. Make sure your strategies can be activated anywhere, anytime, are enjoyable, and will distract you. Nominate someone you can phone at short notice to be your coach.

Persistence is your friend: Sadly, motivation usually fizzles out like a sparkler on a birthday cake. It burns brightly in the short-term but dies when the going gets tough. Do not rely on motivation.

Tell yourself that all you need to be is persistent. Long-term success is achieved through steady, small steps of progress. If you make a mistake, that’s okay. You are not derailed. It’s just a detour.

Tomorrow, you are once more committed to the positive behaviour you chose to improve your life.
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