Why do 80 percent of New Year’s Resolutions fail? Because when it comes to making meaningful and lasting change, no amount of sheer willpower or raw talent will make up for the wrong mindset. You can’t change your life without changing your mind first.
This year, let’s turn those well-meaning resolutions into new, healthy habits. Here are four ways to think your way to success, all year long:
1. Reframe Your Motivation:
We often equate treating ourselves well with punishment. How often have you told yourself that you need to go for a run just because you ate too much over the weekend, or had a healthy dinner just because you overdid it at lunch? It’s time to stop thinking about good behavior as a way to “counteract” bad behavior and instead see it for what it is: an investment in yourself.
Healthy habits are easier to form and sustain when you ditch the negative “consequence” thinking entirely. Instead, think of them as an investment like any other: You might put money in a savings account each month because you’re sensibly planning for your future, right? Forming a positive, healthy habit requires the exact same “payment now, reward later” mindset. The effort is worth it because you are worth it.
2. Boost Your Willpower:
MIT researchers recently discovered that decision-making is affected by chronic stress: High-risk, high-payoff options seem more appealing, which is why it’s easier to slide back into bad habits after a long day. In other words, sitting in front of the TV and snacking night after night might be risky for your long-term health, but it also feels relaxing in the short term when you’re frazzled.
Give your willpower an extra boost by increasing the payoff of low-risk (and healthier) options: Pair something you should to do with something you want to do, like watching your favorite show at the gym or listening to an audiobook while you walk. This self-control strategy, defined by behavioral economist Katherine Milkman as “temptation bundling,” has been scientifically proven to make it easier to follow through on healthy habits that might not be fun in the short-term but that have big rewards down the road.
3. Exercise Your No-Excuses Muscle:
Let’s say you decide that you need to exercise more. It’s a great thought, but then come the reasons not to exercise: You had a hard day and need to relax—working out is exhausting. You’d like to join a gym, but you’re not athletic—everyone at spin class will be better, faster, or fitter than you.
The next time a cascade of excuses pops into your head, look for a pattern. Are you following some unspoken rule about how you or the world should be? We call these mostly subconscious beliefs Iceberg Beliefs, and they may be making it harder for you to reach your goals. For example, you might think that you’re just not an athlete, or that if you can’t be the best at something—like spinning—it’s not even worth a try. Next time an Iceberg crops up, challenge it. Tell yourself: “Maybe I wasn’t athletic before, but I can become athletic now. Nothing’s permanent,” or, “I might not always be the best, but that’s fine. I can try my hardest, and measure myself that way.” Don’t be afraid to confront yourself!
4. Be Realistic:
Forming new habits takes time—and it also takes a healthy dose of realism. When we set goals, we often become overly ambitious. But you’re not going to wake up tomorrow ready to run a marathon if you’ve never run a mile in your life, just like you’re not ready to cook a gourmet meal if you’ve never turned on a stove. Instead, take small steps towards achievable goals: Instead of vowing to cook at home every single night, aim for three nights a week. Let your goals evolve as you do.
Kara Baskin is a Boston-based journalist and well-being expert. For over 15 years, she has been helping consumers live healthier, more fulfilling lives, writing for outlets such as The Boston Globe, Time, and Women’s Health. Kara has also collaborated on several books on women’s health and resilience. Find her on Twitter @kcbaskin