It’s that time again when people start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. The real question is how can you make effective and long lasting resolutions?
Often I see children and adults who desire change, but when faced with making this change, they fall back into old habits. On a personal level, I have experienced “wanting” to change, but not being able to do so. But about three years ago, I made a change in my life that in the past I struggled with. Specifically, in the past I had tried to lose weight, but I just couldn’t. However, this time, I approached this change differently, and I am happy to say that although it is still challenging, I have been able to maintain this change: the weight is still off.
In this month’s blog, I would like to share with you what I have found to be helpful for myself and others to create lasting change. No, I don’t have any magic wands or spells; however, with the right outlook and the right behavior, you too can make more effective resolutions – ones that will last past Jan 15th.
1. Focus on the Positive:
For change to become lasting and meaningful, we must train ourselves to focus on the positive. We often try to change ourselves and others by saying “no” – no more yelling, no more fear, no more cake, or no more running in the halls. However, when we focus on the “no,” our natural reaction is to step/push back. Science teaches us that to make lasting and real change, we need to come from a place of JOY and a place of “YES”! For me, this approach was the big difference between success and failure in terms of my weight loss. In the past, I approached weight loss from a place of “no” – what I had to give up in order to lose weight. This time, I was able to focus on the positive aspects of my personal journey rather than on the deprivation.
2. Make it Easy to Be Good and Harder to be Bad:
In his book, Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, psychologist Shawn Achor writes about wanting to run more and watch less television. So what did he do? He took the batteries out of his remote control and slept in his running clothes. This simple trick made it easier for him to stay focused on his long-term goal of running rather than giving in to what may have made him feel better in the moment. Environmental cues have a tremendous effect on our behavior. We are much more successful when we create an environment that promotes our desired behavior instead of thinking we can put ourselves in a tempting environment and not succumb. For whatever change you want for yourself or for your children, make it easy to be successful and hard to fail.
3. Willpower is a Limited Resource So Make It a Habit:
It is best to transform those activities that require willpower into habits. Once the activity is a habit, it is automatic and no longer needs to draw upon the limited resource of willpower. For example, flossing is a habit for me. It doesn’t take willpower for me to do it. However, for my son, who has not made flossing a habit, he has to use willpower. The good news is that with my continued encouragement (yes, I said, “encourage not nag”), flossing will also turn into a habit for my son and will eventually be effortless and automatic for him as well. By the way, tooth brushing was not a habit originally for my son, and I am happy to say it is now a habit for him.
4. Write it Down and Be Specific:
Write down what you want to take on– the more specific, the better. For example writing, “I will walk at 7:00 AM each day for 25 minutes,” or “I will have patience with my daughter during math homework,” is better than just thinking “I will exercise” and “I will have patience.” To increase your success, write down your thoughts and be specific.
5. Get Social Support:
Let others know that you are working on a goal and try to incorporate them into the goal. By letting people know what you are doing, you pre-commit and have a better chance of changing your ways (this is one of the secrets of Weight Watchers). In addition, when you are faced with a challenge or feel like giving up, you can turn to your supporters to get you back on track. Getting social support can be the difference between quitting and continuing.
6. Stand Firm, No Wavering:
One way you can be sure to stick with a goal of any kind is to tell yourself that there is no other choice. It is the wavering that causes all the trouble. Once you start having an internal dialogue, like “I know I’m late, but it is only a few minutes…,” you have lost the battle! Don’t get into the dialogue. Instead, stand firm. Make it a rule. I often think about this in terms of my decision to keep kosher. I don’t eat lobster and am not even tempted to do so because my decision to follow Jewish dietary laws makes it impossible for me to even consider it (it’s a rule). In contrast, once you permit yourself to debate the issue, you make it much more difficult to stick to your goal.
7. Practice Meditation:
Practicing mindfulness meditation for a few minutes each day can actually boost willpower by building up gray matter in areas of the brain that regulate emotions and govern decision making. Paying attention to what’s happening in the moment, what’s going on in your body, your mind, and all around you, can make it easier to pay attention to choices you make throughout the day.
8. Bring Your Resolution to the Forefront with an Advantage Card:
I first heard the idea of an “Advantage Card” when I attended Dr. Judith Beck’s Workshop on Cognitive Behavioral Strategies for Weight Loss. The idea behind the Advantage Card is to put in writing the advantages for your new, positive habit and to read it each day. It can be used for any new habit you want to create. I have used Advantage Cards with children that focused on the advantages for calling out less, decreasing procrastination, or being less anxious. The Advantage Card is an effective tool because it places in the forefront what you want to accomplish in the long-term. However, it is not enough to have an Advantage Card. You need to pre-commit to where and when you will look at the card. Take a minute now and make an Advantage Card for a habit you want to change. Or, encourage your child to make an Advantage Card for what he/she wants to change. You can’t change others so you can’t write an advantage card for another person (e.g., my child will pick up his dirty laundry). Once you have written your card, pick a time and place to read it. Many people choose to read their card first thing in the morning and to leave it on their night stand or in the bathroom. It only takes a minute to read, but it is well worth it.
9. WOOP it out.
Huh? Dr. Gabriele Oettingen, the originator of WOOP, discusses this principle in her recent book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. So how does WOOP work? The idea is that when one tries to develop a new habit, one should first imagine what it would feel like to have this wish (w) and outcome (o) occur. But then, just as important, one should imagine what the obstacles (o) are that prevent one’s wish and outcome from occurring. Lastly, one needs to make an if-then plan (p) for this obstacle. For example, if I wanted to yell less at my children that would be my wish (wish). If I yelled less, I would be happier, my kids would be happier, and I would be a good role model (outcome). However, I don’t do this because the need to be right and getting my frustration off my chest takes over (obstacle). My plan then would be if I find myself yelling then I will remind myself that this is counterproductive and take a step back rather than a step forward (plan). Dr. Mischel discusses in his book, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control that the beauty of an if-then plan is that it gives you time to consider your options and be better able to activate the cool, goal-oriented part of the brain, instead of acting based on what the hot, immediate gratification part of the brain wants.
10. Don’t Overreact When You Mess Up:
Everyone messes up sometimes. But often, when people get off track they overreact, turn a small problem into a bigger one and lose sight of their goals. In this way, a simple lapse can end up causing more damage. Instead, acknowledge the lapse, but give yourself CREDIT for getting back on track.
I hope these ideas inspire you. Wishing you a happy and a healthy holiday season and one where your “wishes/resolutions” come true.
Please check out my website at drbaruchfeldman.com for additional blogs and articles and follow me on twitter at Caren Feldman@carenfeldman. I will be presenting on this topic (IT’S NOT ABOUT WILLPOWER: MAKE IT A HABIT) on Dec 20th from 7-830 at Congregation Ohav Sholom, 145 S. Merrick Avenue, Merrick, NY and on January 5th 7-8 at the Scarsdale Library, Scarsdale, NY. To register please go to: https://calendar.scarsdalelibrary.org/event/2269140