It’s early in the new year. Like every new year, people are excited about their new year’s resolutions. They’re convinced that this year is going to be their year to grow. Perhaps in 2021 more than ever (because of the unprecedented and difficult nature of 2020), people are seeing this year as a fresh start and a chance to improve a certain aspect of their lives.
The top new year’s resolutions in the United States include exercising/getting in shape, dieting or eating healthier, losing weight, saving money, learning a new skill, getting a new job, quitting a bad habit, or doing something for self-care. Maybe you have set resolutions in the past or have this year, or know people who are always super enthusiastic about setting goals, even outside of the calendar flip, though it seems easiest to get motivated when the new year is lying fresh and unexplored before you.
However, motivation is a fickle friend, and studies have shown that around 80% of new year’s resolutions fail before March. Only 11.4% of people, according to one study, were able to set and keep their new habit permanently.
Why is keeping resolutions so difficult for most of us, and what can we do to make sure that our resolutions are more than just wishes?
It’s really important to learn this skill, particularly if you are struggling with addiction or are on your recovery journey. You need more than just enthusiasm and willpower to build and maintain healthy habits that will keep you free from substance abuse and allow you to live a life you love!
At Better Tomorrow Treatment Center in West Palm Beach, FL, we understand that recovery is complex, and healing requires more than just setting healthy habits, which is why we offer quality treatment programs to help people struggling with addiction achieve sobriety. However, the ability to set healthy habits is part of the recovery journey.
Here are 5 tips (not an exhaustive list by any means, but a good place to start!) to help you build and maintain healthier habits:
1. Plan it out & get specific.
Be careful and intentional about setting your goals. Vague intentions go nowhere. “I’m going to eat healthier” this year is a great idea, but it’s actually not achievable because “healthier” is not defined, and because you have no measurable direction, you probably won’t end up eating healthier. You need to have a specific goal, and you need to have a plan to get there. Create a SMART objective! SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-oriented. A better goal would be “I want to start by incorporating one vegetable into every dinner and only eating red meat three times a week in January. By February, I want to have a vegetable with two meals every day and red meat only once a week. By March, I want to be eating red meat only once a month and have vegetables with every meal.” It’s extremely specific, and also time-oriented (depending on your lifestyle, you would have to adjust that to be relevant and attainable).
2. Start small & stay realistic.
Part of the reason new year’s resolutions fail so much is because they take an “all or nothing” approach. They are often major goals that are completely at odds with the goal-maker’s current lifestyle. Expectations affect reality. When the change falls short of the expectation, it can often lead to disappointment and giving up. To avoid that and keep your expectations realistic, set a small goal you believe you can achieve at first. Instead of going from never even exercising to “I’m going to run a marathon in April”, make one small, consistent choice, and build on it. Start by running half a mile three times a week for a month, and then increase the length and frequency. If you want to pay off all of your debt in 5 years, start with the smallest debt you have and pay a set amount – maybe $100 each month – and go up from there.
3. Have accountability.
One of the primary reasons people fail is because they don’t have a support system to hold them accountable. You can’t hold yourself accountable unless you are incredibly disciplined, and even then, it’s a risk. The odds of you sticking to your habits and goals are much greater when other people around you know what you are trying to accomplish and why, and are cheering you on while not enabling you to skip days or steps. We don’t change alone or in a vacuum, according to one insightful article from Forbes magazine – we need people to help us, offer us encouragement and different perspectives.
4. Remove environmental barriers.
This is one of the best tips we’ve ever heard on habit formation and one that we think more people need to consider, particularly if you are struggling with addiction or are in recovery. Your environment influences so much about your daily routine and your lifestyle habits – change your environment to your advantage, and you make it much easier to build and maintain good habits. For example, let’s say your goal is to exercise more (but of course, it’s more specific than that because it’s SMART!), but you’re having a hard time finding time to go to the gym. By the time you get home and change, traffic is a nightmare, the TV looks very inviting, your phone is dinging with emails, the kids are tugging on your legs, and it’s always going to be easier to stay home rather than go out to the gym again. However, if you packed a bag of gym clothes the night before and put it in your car, you could stop by the gym directly after work before going home, and you’re more likely to get a full workout in. Or, if you want to eat healthier, stop buying sodas and chips – just don’t keep them in the house, and you won’t be tempted to snack on them. Replace them with healthy foods that you like.
5. Reward yourself.
In the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (a must-read for people in recovery or who are interested in behavior), he proves there are three parts to any habit. Cue (what triggers the action), routine (the action itself), and reward (the result because of the action). If you want to change your habits, there needs to be a reward part so the cycle is complete and your body feels fulfilled – changing the reward from bad to beneficial is often a key strategy in building and maintaining healthy habits. For example, if you say you are going to exercise more, but reward yourself with a cake every week, you are not doing anything great for yourself and the reward is still unhealthy – it is counterproductive to your goal, and will actually make it harder to exercise and outweighs the benefits of motion. However, if you never reward yourself, your body will not necessarily associate the action (right away) with any reward, which can make it more difficult to keep the motivation. Your rewards need to be something healthy and related to the habit; for example, if you exercise and are meeting your small goals each week, reward yourself with a new pair of running shoes or a new exercise shirt. You can read more ideas here.