Many of us will have made health-related New Year’s resolutions, and if the statistics are right, there’s a good chance you’re already slipping back into old ways: a study carried out last year by the University of Hertfordshire found that over half the people who had made a resolution weren’t able to stick at it for more than one week. People who relied on willpower alone found it most difficult to keep to their resolutions. So whether you’ve resolved to give up smoking, eat more healthily, lose a few pounds or drink a bit less alcohol, here are a few tips for steps you can take plus some useful weblinks, apps and books to help you see it through:
1. Set yourself SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed. So if you’ve resolved to ‘eat more healthily’ try reworking your resolution into something like: ‘have porridge and chopped banana for breakfast instead of sugar puffs on 5 days a week’, and if you resolved to ‘take up jogging’ you might turn that into something like: ‘go jogging twice a week for 20 minutes’. This helps you to focus and to notice your progress too, which helps to give you a sense of achievement and keep you motivated. At the end of the specified time period, you can review the situation and renew or amend your resolution. So if you find it’s easy to eat porridge 5 days a week, then at the end of January, you might choose to carry on, or if it’s been more of a challenge, it might be more realistic for you to just have it twice a week.
2. Focus on changing one thing at a time: New Year’s resolutions often fail because you try to do too much too soon. If you have more than one resolution, start by focusing on one which is less daunting than some of the others, reward yourself when you’ve achieved it, and then choose the next one to focus on.
3. Split big goals into smaller steps: similarly, many resolutions fail because they’re just to big a challenge to take on all in one go, and the finishing line is too far away. Progress seems slow and small, and that’s disheartening, so we end up giving up. Using the SMART approach helps you to split major challenges into smaller steps and to recognise your achievement towards your ultimate goal. This helps to keep you going. Plan how you will celebrate achieving each small step and each major milestone. If you’re giving up smoking, how will you reward yourself after a week, a month, six months, a year?
4. Use a carrot, not a stick: it’s much more motivating to focus on the benefits of achieving your goals than the downside of continuing the behaviour or habit you want to change. For example, if you want to eat more healthily by cooking your own meals rather than living on takeaways, the benefits might include learning a new skill that will impress your partner (cooking), having more energy, having more money to spend on other things etc.
5. Come up with all your excuses now: write a list of all the excuses you give yourself for the behaviour you want to change or for not sticking to your resolution; also think about the situations where you might be tempted to break it. Then think about how you’re going to overcome each obstacle, and write that down. It can help to do this with a friend, and you can back each other up in tempting situations.
6. Visualise the new you: once you’ve identified all the benefits, sit back, relax and visualise yourself doing what it is that you’ve resolved to do, resisting tempation (using the strategies you’ve identified) and feeling the benefits.
7. Seek support to help you achieve your goals: tell your friends and remove temptation from your surroundings (for example, if you want to eat more healthily, clear out any unhealthy foods from your cupboards and don’t go shopping when you’re hungry or you could find yourself stocking up on biscuits).
8. Make your resolutions public: it’s not too late to announce what you’re doing on Twitter or Facebook; join forces with other people who have the same resolution and help one another.
9. Be nice to yourself: celebrate your achievements; don’t give yourself a hard time if you slip up; just pick yourself up and start again.
10. Don’t give up: don’t use it as an excuse to completely give up if you slip up either: tomorrow is another day and you can start afresh. It takes time to embed new habits so just keep on keeping on, one day at a time.
Here are a few useful books, online tools and apps
These can help you gather support, motivate yourself and monitor your progress:
59 Seconds (book) by Richard Wiseman Explains scientifically proven techniques that help you achieve your aims and ambitions in less than a minute: “From mood to memory, persuasion to procrastination, and resilience to relationships, 59 Seconds presents the new science of rapid change.”
43things – www.43things.com – helps you keep track of your goals in life and has a special section on resolutions. You can share tips with other people who have the same goal or resolutions. There’s also an iPhone app available from iTunes.
Habitforge - www.habitforge.com – this is a bit like 43things and is based on the idea that it takes 21 days to embed a new habit, so you plan and track your resolution over 21 days. The site sends you motivational emails too.
PledgeBank – www.pledgebank.com – group together with others to publicly commit to doing something: it’s an ‘I will if you will’ approach, so you’re committing to other people as well as yourself, which makes the incentives stronger.
Stickk – www.stickk.com – a bit like PledgeBank, but with teeth: make your goals public, enlist support form other users and commit by putting your money where your mouth is: you nominate a cause you don’t support and donate to that if you fail to achieve your goal.
Quit Drinking by Dr. Milne – helps you define your motivation, plan to quit and provides sobering facts
GottaKickit Now – helps you gradually cut down and then quit smoking
Quitter – helps you track how much money you’ve saved by not smoking (although I have to say that sticking the money in a savings account and checking your balance online would have the same effect and doesn’t cost anything!)
Tap & Track – track your food intake and exercise; lots of features to help you lose weight
My Weight Loss Coach - track your food intake and exercise; built in pedometer; games and challenges; motivational coaching tips
Spend – set budgets and track your spending as you spend so you don’t go over your limit
Todo – helps keep you organized to ensure you hit your deadlines