New Year’s Resolutions & Successful Behavior Change

Research has shown that the success rates for people keeping their New Year’s resolutions is somewhere between 6 to 50 percent.  That’s a pretty big spread and a huge failure rate.  Why are New Year’s resolutions often so unsuccessful?  Let’s focus on the Big Three: Too Much, Too Fast, Wrong Time.

Too Much

Behavior change typically does not happen in huge leaps and bounds.  New habits and behaviors are formed in small steps.  If you are going to set a goal, make it small, reasonable and meaningful.  Rather than setting a goal of losing 15 or 20 pounds, the first small step is to monitor what you are eating and start eating healthier foods.  Keep things simple.  Follow something like Michael Pollan’s dictum, “Eat food [real food not processed foods], not too much, mostly plants.”  What can I do each week to start eating in more healthy ways?  Health should be the goal, no necessarily weight loss.

Too Fast

Behavior change also takes time.  Expecting sudden change or sudden improvements leads to disappointment and discouragement.  We need to be realistic about our timeframes.  Health psychology researcher Phillippa Lally at the University College London has demonstrated that developing new habits, even simple ones such as drinking an extra glass of water at lunch, takes a great deal of time.  The time it takes for a new behavior to become almost automatic (a habit) takes between 18 to 254 days, with the average being 66 days – more than two months!  Behavior change is a process, not an event.  We need to be patient and persistent, and find the motivation for the long run because change happens in small ways over a long period of time.  Which brings us to our final point…

Wrong Time

Motivation and readiness to change are key elements of successful behavior change.  We can’t just pull motivation out of a hat.  Why should I expect my motivation for change on January 1st be any different than it was on December 1st (or will be on February 1st)? Pick your own start date that fits your readiness to change.  Start developing a plan to improve your health and well-being.  Pick a small goal with a reasonable timeframe.  Write you plan down.  Share it with a trusted friend or natural support who can encourage and support you as you implement your plan.  When you feel ready, pick a start date and implement your plan.   Starting the change on your own terms at the right time is much more likely to lead to long-term changes.

Behavior change is hard, so take the extra time to set yourself up for success: Right Size, Right Speed, Right Time. 

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