10 Ways to Make Your New Year's Resolutions Stick
10 ways to stay strong in the face of tempting cupcakes, pricey shoes, and the urge to hit the snooze button instead of the gym.
2. Make One Change at a Time
Once you understand that you have only a limited amount of willpower, it's easy to understand why multiple resolutions aren't likely to work, says Ian Newby-Clark, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Guelph in Canada. Most resolutions actually require many behavior changes. Sure, some are straightforward, like remembering to take a calcium pill every day — but a successful weight-loss program, for example, calls for more than just a decision to eat less. You have to shop and cook differently, start or ramp up an exercise routine, maybe even ditch certain social or family events. "Thinking through these substrategies boosts success rates," says Newby-Clark. "But it would take too much attention and vigilance to do all that and also decide it's time to brush your teeth for the full two minutes and become better informed about world events."
3. Break It Up
Since your supply of self-control is finite, make resolutions that require small acts of will, not weeks of vigilance. " 'Lose 10 pounds' sounds specific, but it's less likely to work than behavioral goals like 'This week I'll try to go to the gym three times, take the stairs at work at least twice, and bring a healthy lunch every day,' " says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Washington, DC, and author of the "Baggage Check" column for the Washington Post Express. You'll feel good when you accomplish each goal, and your success will help bolster your resolve: The better you are at making small changes, the easier it will be for you to keep going.
4. Lift Your Spirits
Watching funny movies — or doing just about anything that puts you in a good mood — also helps when willpower starts wearing down. In a particularly sneaky study, researchers asked a group of 30 hungry students to sit in a room that smelled like freshly baked cookies. Although a plate of M&Ms and still-warm cookies was placed within reach, participants were told to snack on a bowl of radishes. Then they were left alone for 10 to 12 minutes in order to exhaust their self-restraint.
Next, some of the students watched a film clip of Robin Williams doing stand-up, while another group viewed a film about dolphins. When, in the last part of the experiment, they were asked to perform a complex tracing project that called for lots of self-control, students who'd seen the funny film stuck with the trying task for about 13 minutes. The Flipper crowd hung in for only nine.
5. Have Some OJ
Self-restraint — stifling your disagreement during a politically charged discussion, for example — can reduce blood glucose to less-than-optimal levels, report Florida State University researchers. But a glass of orange juice or lemonade can replenish your self-control. The brain relies almost exclusively on glucose for energy, so it has to be the real thing — artificially sweetened drinks won't deliver the jolt.