How to stick to your New Year’s resolutions

How to stick to your New Year’s resolutions
New year's holiday concept

“What’s your resolution?” Facebook asked me. And I thought “Umm, just 1024 x 768, why?” . Oops. But of course, I do have many wishes and dreams for the year(s) to come! And as a student of neuropsychology, I might be able to help others to achieve their goals by giving some tips. Therefore, I talked about this with journalist Robbert Minkhorst for a story in “FIT”, the health supplement of various local and regional Dutch newspapers (the Noord-Hollands Dagblad, Haarlems Dagblad, Leidsch Dagblad and de Gooi and Eemlander). And worked out an English version of my rambling for this blog. 😉

My wishes for the future include finishing my PhD and participating in the National Championship. I also want to publish (at least) four academic articles, get my 1st Dan grade, go on tour with the Domcantorij (to the UK!) complete four courses on neuropsychology and finish two Duolingo trees (Japanese and Chinese). In addition, I have personal goals in the field of friendship and relationships.

In budo & life (are they separable?) the is more important than any goals and the mindset to stay on track is called shõshin – which allows you to approach every concept, technique and mindset like a beginner, open minded, without prejudice. Still, I like to keep records and set picket posts. And my way to make things concrete is through schemes. A training schedule, a writing schedule, a study schedule. And that also works for personal matters: once a week a date night with my partner and once a week a coffee with a (different) friend, a dinner with friends every month, a weekend away four times a year, etc. And perhaps most importantly: planning evaluation moments. Not only your car benefits from an MOT.

What might help you to achieve your goals? First of all: realise that learning new habits does not only take time (at least 21 days), but also effort: every time you thoughtlessly want to take that cigarette or that candy or that glass of wine, you suddenly have to choose something else. Sometimes that is were is goes wrong, that people take a candy instead of the cigarette and thus replace one bad habit with the other, for example. That often happens without awareness as the focus was on not taking the cigarette and not on sweets, because they were not the problem. It is therefore also useful to consider what the bad habit brought you and in what other way you can realize that. Did you hang in front of the TV to relax? Maybe that also works with walking, reading or yoga. Every habit has four phases (in technical terms: cue, craving, response, and reward) and if you want to replace a bad habit with a good one, you will have to think about each of these four phases.

Do not be too ambitious: choose a few feasible intentions and go for it. Be realistic. And well, be nice to yourself. Be your own best friend! And think about your good intentions, what exactly is it that you want to change / achieve? A good idea is to formulate your resolutions the SMART way (specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic, time bound). If you write it down, with a pen on a paper, your brain will take it more seriously. And even more if you add your reasons: next to the resolution, just write why you want to do it. Rest assured that it is an experiment, you are just going to do it for the entire month and then evaluate it. Divide your goals into small steps, so small that it is absurd not to do it for a moment. “Tidying up ten minutes every day before I go to bed” has a much greater chance of success than “in 2019 I will get my house in order and keep it”.

Also think carefully about what suits you. Is your good intention to do more sports? Then choose a sport that you like and agree with a friend that you go together and when (we often do things easier for another person than for ourselves). And think about the moments that you are working against yourself. We have some “primal mechanisms” that now and then might get in the way of us, for example becoming lazy and languid when we are satisfied. Once, these mechanisms were handy after the hunt, when you get hungry again you become energetic again, but not so handy in the 21st century with that bag of chips on the couch. Think therefore about the possible bumps on your path, and practice before the mirror how you thanks if your colleague offers you a cigarette / beer / piece of cake. Make up some beautiful “if-then” sentences for yourself, eg: “if it rains too hard to run, then I go to the gym and that will be nice”.

Also think about when you fall into the trap of the habit. Do you eat / drink / smoke when you are alone or with a group? Changes in your lifestyle are much more difficult if you do not change the context. Therefore: tell everyone about your intentions! Put it on Facebook or Twitter if necessary. That way your environment can support you. Also fun and handy: the “piggy banks”. Everything that does not go on gambling / gaming / drinking / snacking / smoking / whatever-it-is-you-stop-now goes in a beautiful glass jar, clearly visible. If you have a concrete goal to save for, this works even better! Another good trick to stay motivated is to ask yourself every day “What can I do today to achieve my goal?” – this may sometimes seem too difficult or just an open door, but consciously making the right choice every day will make it a habit sooner.

Also think about which “hacks” you can use to achieve your goal. For weight loss, for example: smaller plates, more conscious and slower eating, brushing your teeth more often (or chewing gum with mint flavor, but make sure that it is sugar-free). If you want to exercise more, add your gymnastics before, during or after a habit you already have. For example: 25 lunges while you brush your teeth, 20 sit-ups while watching the news bulletin, 10 push-ups while you wait for the tea to boil, etc. A pedometer is also a good “hack” and so there are many more apps that can help you to learn a new habit.

Whatever you have to do: make your goal concrete. Not: “I’m going to eat less”, but “I only eat sweets on Saturday” or “I buy one bag a week and that’s it”. Otherwise you have a chance that you will “slip” and in February eat just as much snacks. And realize that small things make a big difference, every day no biscuit with the tea or every day a scoop of sugar less in the coffee saves on an annual basis enormously, just like every day the stairs instead of the lift or the bike instead from the bus. Moreover, your body gets used to more movement and less sweetness and therefore it is also easier to politely turn off that second piece of cake from that old colleague or to go through the cold for an extra round to bring back the library books. .

Another trick you might like is to speak to yourself as if you are a little child – not too strict, but helpful, with transition time and rituals – and make it as easy as possible for yourself. Gym nearby, running shoes at the door, no shopping when you’re hungry etc. Grumble lovingly on your excuses and make a nice plan. Maybe you can give yourself a nice calendar where you check how many days you have not eaten meat, for example? Try to see the new change as part of your identity, “I am someone who is sporty”, for example.

The last – and most easy – thing you can do: get enough sleep. Better too much than too less. Because sleep is good for your prefrontal cortex – the area in your brain that is involved in impulse control, decision making, planning etc. so exactly what you need. Sleeping also helps with weight loss, by the way, if that is your resolution.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. And feel free to like and share. 😉 HAPPY NEW YEAR! Best, Martine

For people who read this somewhere in the year(s) to come: do not think that good intentions can only work if you start exactly on the 1st of January. It might seem psychologically / mentally the most beautiful start, such a clean slate, just like a new notebook to begin writing your novel. But every day is the first day of the rest of your life and a great day to start with the life that suits you best! And quite frankly, January is not the best time for that, that is August, when you have to rebuild your routines anyway after a carefree summer vacation.

My name is Martine and I am writing my PhD about the Cyborg Mermaid. On this website, you’ll find blogs about autism, cyborgs, fan fiction, King Alfred of Wessex, mermaids, music & musicology, martial arts, (neuro)psychology, video games, and random nerdiness.

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