New Year brings with it new beginnings. For many of us, this means making a new set of resolutions. Most of us are aware of the changes we can bring into our lives to be healthier and happier. The problem is that year after year the resolution list just stays on paper, seldom executed.
Have you ever wondered why despite knowing what is good for us, we keep failing to do those things? Aren't we all at times torn between that part of us which wants to lose weight, cut down on drinking or smoking, stay off Facebook or fried food, call our parents more often or start writing that book which is in our head, and the other part which wants to sleep five minutes more, puts off starting the exercise schedule, loves to procrastinate and finds any excuse to not initiate a change? Joseph Shrand, MD of Harvard Medical School, says that our desire to self- discipline and self- restrain is a rational decision where we logically weigh the options, understand the long- term consequences and then perhaps choose something bigger over instant pleasure. This ability comes from the frontal and prefrontal area of our brain, which is the newest part of evolutionary development. Unfortunately this part is easily overruled by our more primitive instincts of pleasure, which resides in the older regions of our brain.
So how do we assist our rational side which wants to be healthy, happy and productive and outsmart our pleasure- seeking, change- resisting urges? Here are a few science- backed strategies to help you stick to your New Year resolutions.
Train your willpower rigorously:
Willpower is not something people just have. Like muscle, we can train our willpower to make it stronger. In an experiment at the State University of New York, researchers asked 122 smokers who were trying to quit to exert extra self- control for two weeks, either by avoiding sweets or by squeezing on a grip strengthener for as long as they could twice a day. In the following month, 27 per cent of those who were diligent about practising their self-control exercise successfully kicked their smoking habit, compared with just 12 per cent of volunteers who'd been given a task that didn't call for self- control. Exercise your willpower more often and more regularly to strengthen it throughout the year.
Don't get disheartened by the initial inability to exercise your willpower whenever you choose to exert it. Try practising self- control twice a week, like pushing yourself extra in the gym or staying off sugar.
Aim for one change at a time:
It's great to know what all you want to change but it's not possible to change everything at once. Prioritise what you would like to change and choose one thing at a time. Trying to incorporate changes according to the priority list one by one is more likely We can train our willpower to make it stronger. If you get frustrated, it becomes easier to give in to temptation. Appreciate your own efforts and encourage yourself
to bring you success rather than an abrupt shift in your entire lifestyle.
Outwit your inner rebel:
" I am never going to use a credit card again" or " I am off all forms of sweets" sounds very grand and noble as a resolution but is more likely to fail as " never" implies that even one failure would mean the resolution has failed. Instead try more realistic resolutions, like " I will consciously choose to avoid unhealthy food" which has more scope to be effective.
Avoid the all- or- none law and make room for flexibility.
Turn your resolution into a doable plan of action:
"This year I am going to lose 10kg" may sound like a specific resolution but losing weight itself is a pretty broad goal. To lose weight we need to exercise, change our dietary habits.
We can then make a resolution like " I will start running from this week and my target is to cover 10km each day by the end of the year" or " In the first week itself I will consult a dietician and follow the diet plan". You can further break these down into a to- do for every month, week and day.
Week One of my fitness plan:
.. Wake up an hour early
.. Go for a walk/ run or gym
.. Consult a dietician
.. Follow the diet plan.
Write them down on paper and put it up at a place where you can see it often. When making the next week's plan of action, incorporate the backlog of the previous week.
Be gentle Don't be too harsh on yourself. To stick to a resolution plan and be able to focus on your greater good over your primitive pleasure sense, you need to prioritise your well- being. If you get frustrated, it becomes easier to give in to temptation. You need to be soft but firm towards yourself, not indulgent. Appreciate your own efforts and encourage yourself. Don't get bogged down by small failures, just try again the next day.
Wish you all a very happy and fulfilling year ahead.
Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com