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How to boost your chances of sticking to new year’s resolutions

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by December 31, 2017 General

In the study, more than 70 per cent of those who wrote down their goals, said them aloud and sent weekly updates to a friend reported achieving their goals successfully. — Reuters picIn the study, more than 70 per cent of those who wrote down their goals, said them aloud and sent weekly updates to a friend reported achieving their goals successfully. — Reuters picSINGAPORE, Dec 31 — Why are resolutions so hard to stick to and how can individuals increase their chances of adopting better habits in the new year?

With 2018 around the corner, many of us might have already drawn up our resolution list.

It is natural for people to use the New Year as a symbolic time to pause and reflect on their behaviours in the past year, and think about making positive lifestyle changes.

But even with the best of intentions, psychiatrist Lim Boon Leng from Gleneagles Medical Centre said less than one in 10 people will feel that they have achieved their goals by the end of the year.

Why is it so difficult to get rid of old habits and adopt new ones? For starters, habits are routines or repetitive behaviour that have become imprinted in the neural pathways, such that the behaviour can take place subconsciously, said Dr Lim.

These behaviours have become automatic, easy to carry out and are rewarding most of the time, said Ms Jeanie Chu, senior clinical psychologist at The Resilienz Clinic.

Studies have also shown that while many people set goals and targets, they do not have a plan on how to go about replacing their old habits, said Dr Lim.

Set small and clear-cut goals

Setting the bar too high is a surefire way for failure, which demotivates a person.

“There is a tendency for people to make lofty resolutions and perceive success as an immediate change,” said Dr Lim.

“For example, many will aim to lose weight and would go on a dramatic diet change once the New Year starts. They may not see weight loss immediately, (and may) lose steam after a few weeks and give up. After a few early failures, learned helplessness sets in and the person gives up, until next year.”

Instead of coming up with an unrealistic or vague target -lose weight by Chinese New Year or eat better in 2018, for instance — Ms Chu suggested setting goals that are easier to achieve while you attempt to establish a conditioned response.

A strategy is to attach your new resolution to an existing habit, and choose a specific action. For example, if your goal is to lose weight and you already have a habit of running once a week, then target to “run 15 minutes more” and/or “run three times a week”, said Ms Chu.

The “if-then” planning model has also been shown to be useful, according to Dr Lim. This pattern of thinking helps you to decide in advance when and where you will take specific actions to meet a goal.

“For example, for a weight loss goal, the person can think, ‘If I’m at the coffeeshop and about to order a soft drink, then I will just order a bottle of water’,” said Dr Lim.

Better still, write your goals down or tell a friend. Accountability may determine whether you achieve or abandon your goals, a study by Dominican University in the United States found.

In the study, which recruited 267 participants from businesses and organisations, more than 70 per cent of those who wrote down their goals, said them aloud and sent weekly updates to a friend reported achieving their goals successfully, compared to 35 per cent of those who merely thought about them.

Give yourself time

Keeping things sustainable is important because it takes time to kick or form a new habit so that the action becomes second nature. This may take anywhere from two to three weeks to half a year, said Dr Lim.

According to Ms Chu, the general rule of thumb is to repeat the action at least three to seven times. Some research however, consider 21 days the shortest time to establish a new habit, she said.

A study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology in 2009, found that a daily action like eating fruit at lunch or going for a walk takes an average of 66 days to become a habit. Although missing an opportunity to perform the new behaviour did not derail the habit-forming process, the researchers observed that the initial days appeared to make the most difference.

While there seems to be much variation in the numbers and some people may be more resistant to change than others, the consensus of experts is that the new routine or behaviour will eventually become less of a struggle when carried out consistently enough.

“To remove a habit, a new one must be implemented, and you will need a duration of time to repeat and ingrain the new habit. Keeping resolutions should not be an all-or-nothing process – remember that it’s a work in progress,” said Dr Lim. — TODAY

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