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Here's how you can actually stick to your new year's resolutions

How are you getting on?

Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

WE’RE ABOUT A week into 2018 and many people will find themselves struggling with their new year’s resolutions.

Maybe you’ve had your head turned by some desserts, or you’re finding it difficult to stop smoking.

But their are ways to ensure that you achieve your goals. Here are some tips.

Set goals – and start big

Asking around TheJournal.ie Towers, this was a common tip. People who have found success – or are trying to – say that setting goals is the best way to do it.

“So don’t just say ‘I’m going to read more’, say ‘I’m going to read at least two books per month’, something like that. ”

Caroline Bloomfield, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Senior Manager at the UK’s Public Health Agency agrees, particularly if the goal is to lose weight.

“Setting targets is important, however it is also important to be realistic. A sure-fire way to fail is to make your goal unattainable.

“Making small, positive, healthy choices throughout the day, each day, can over time make a difference to our waistlines.”

It could also be helpful to start your resolution off with a bang. A University of Chicago study in 2009 found that students were more likely to go to the gym when being paid an incentive. While that is hardly surprising, the study found that those who were being paid to go to the gym kept their gym attendance up at a rate that far outstripped their peers. This, the authors suggested, showed that an intense burst of energy towards a new activity, were more likely to stick at it.

Make the habit – and schedule it

It is important to remember that you are, generally speaking, trying to change something about the way you live. It is important, then, to remember that it helps to make the resolution part of your routine.

“I was a newbie last year. And I started VERY small but managed to stick to the one thing I said I’d add to my routine every night. It sounds silly but I was more careful about my skincare routine and it was actually brilliant for not only my skin but my mental health/sleep. ”

“If your resolution is to go to the gym or read or paint etc, actually put it in your diary/iCal to do. Schedule in that hour in the evening/morning and it becomes part of your day, not another additional thing.”

This scheduling and habit forming can help overcome one major flaw in the human brain – a lack of self control.

Even those who think they are in control may be fooling themselves, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University published last year.

Researchers showed that when people see something associated with a past reward, their brain flushes with dopamine — even if they aren’t expecting a reward and even if they don’t realise they’re paying it any attention. The results suggest we don’t have as much self-control as we might think.

“We don’t have complete control over what we pay attention to,” said senior author Susan M. Courtney, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “We don’t realize our past experience biases our attention to certain things.”

This could be why it’s so hard for people to break the cycle of addiction and why dieters keep thinking about fattening food when they’re trying to eat better.

“I could choose healthy food or unhealthy food, but my attention keeps being drawn to fettuccini Alfredo,” Courtney said. “What we tend to look at, think about and pay attention to is whatever we’ve done in the past that was rewarded.”

Piggyback

“Pairing things works – listen to that new podcast on your run/read on your commute every morning/take your vitamins with breakfast.”

This theory is backed up by a study from the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine, which studied how habits are formed. It suggests that people have an easier time bundling their habits on top of existing activities.

In the study, half of the participants were instructed to floss their teeth before brushing, and half after. Those who flossed after brushing (rather than before) tended to form stronger flossing habits and, at an eight-month follow-up, had stronger habits and flossed more frequently.

Another study at the University of Pennsylvania gave gym-goers a chance to listen to an audiobook, but locked the iPad it was on in a gym locker. This meant that if they wanted to listen to the rest of the book while working out, they would have to come back to that gym. Another group was given no incentive.

The group with the incentives attended the gym 27% more regularly.

How are you getting on? Let us know in the comments.

Read: 10 realistic New Year’s resolutions for the modern parent

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