The annual tradition of making a change

How are your resolutions going?

Man jumping for joy in mountain range February is already upon us and you may have started one or more resolutions a month ago. A YouGov poll found that a quarter of Brits made new year’s resolutions, but that most of them had failed to keep them by the end of the year. So, what makes people keep their resolutions?

According to André Aleman, Professor of Neuropsychology at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) in the Netherlands, resolutions usually come down to behavioural change. An attempt often goes wrong because of the three C's: custom, convenience and comfort. These factors often ensure that the intention is not achieved. One of the tips André Aleman gives is to take small steps and make them concrete. It helps to visualise what you have to do.

University Medical Center Groningen University Medical Center Groningen

A new routine

Remember to give yourself credit when you work on your resolution. Is your intention to drink less coffee, and did you replace one cup with a cup of tea instead? Then give yourself a compliment, out loud if necessary. The satisfaction is your reward, says Aleman. And yes, in the beginning that ‘reward’ might be disappointing compared to what you’re giving up. But you will get used to it and it will feel better. "You have to turn the new behaviour into a routine that you're not going to change anymore." It also helps, according to Aleman, to regularly remind yourself of how important you think your goal is.

It's also good to gain insight into the moments when things go wrong. If your goal is to eat healthier, for example, then try to understand the situations in which this might be difficult to stick to. Are you very hungry when you go to the supermarket after a day's work? Then there's a good chance you'll come home with more food than you need. Is there a lot of 'bad' food available when you're at work? Then try to make sure that you have healthier (but still tasty!) alternatives.

If you make a mistake, you can learn from it

These habits and moments will only be noticeable once a person starts to pay particular attention to them. Then it can feel as if they have 'failed', after all, it seems as though things are going wrong. But this failure is part of it: you can only do something about your patterns when you begin to understand what your pattern looks like. And that, in turn, depends on your resolution – the intention to 'eat healthier', will have different patterns to look out for than 'using less plastic', or 'limiting social media use before bedtime’.

Visualising the goal

Behavioural psychologist Gabriele Oettingen has done extensive research on motivation and goal setting. In her book 'Rethinking positive thinking: Inside the new science of motivation', she writes about how you can achieve your goals by mentally contrasting them . By ‘mental contrasting’, Oettingen means that you compare the situation that you want to be in with the situation as it is now. For example, comparing the scenario of waking up more relaxed and having more energy because you went to sleep earlier, versus that of going to sleep too late and having trouble waking up. According to Oettingen, if you can visualise that goal well, it provides strong motivation. The more concrete the image, the better, as you’ll have more clarity.

Next, ask yourself what currently stands between the current undesirable situation and the resolution. Defining these points will get you into action mode.

Using tools to help

Using online tools for your resolution can also help you to create a clear plan. For example, keeping an online diary for tracking your sleep, or for writing down how you are feeling. There are all kinds of apps available that can help. Online training can also give you insight into what you find important and help to ensure that you get a clearer picture of where you want to go. The better you know your obstacles, the better you can avoid or prevent them.

It starts with motivation

Don't forget that you don’t have to do this on your own. You can involve those around you in the process by telling them what you want to achieve and why. By doing this, you also avoid the risk of your friends or partner tempting you into breaking your resolution. They could help you stick to a new routine, and they might even be inspired to set a resolution themselves.

Remember: no matter how many tools you might be willing to use, it starts with motivation. If you’re feeling the pressure of sticking to a resolution because you feel that you should, but you don't really want to change anything right now… there’s no harm in skipping the tradition this year!

More about online behavioural change

Would you like to know more about behavioural change and how Minddistrict can support it in mental health care? Find out how we help organisations with online behavioural change.