Keeping Up with New Year's Goals

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As we leave week 2 of the New Year, some of us might already be struggling with maintaining our “New Year’s Goals.” It is one thing to set out a list of resolutions and it is another to set out time to do them. We are here to say that building these goals can be daunting, but they can also be achieved. The journey to self-growth can be as simple as choosing to eat a salad over purchasing fast food or as intense as running a marathon. In this article, we will share some studies involving ways to keep up with our New Year’s Goals. First, let us ask why does a holiday such as the New Year tends to be a turning point for people? Why do people feel compelled to change every time the ball drops? Researchers from UCLA and UPenn’s Wharton School published a paper discussing the “fresh start effect” which is what drives people to make grand gestures of change during New Year’s Day, birthdays, starting new jobs, or back-to-school season. This paper discussed why new chapters in one’s life would make people become introspective and wish to make behavioral changes. So why do so many people end up ditching their goals come mid-February? A recent study, published by researchers from Stockholm University and Linköping University in Sweden, observed over a thousand people who made New Year’s resolutions and then were told to follow up with their progress every month till the next year. What the researchers were interested in was the difference between “approach goals” and “avoidance goals.” Approach-oriented goals were about pursing a fresh start and focused on doing something like going to the gym. While avoidance-oriented goals were focused on quitting or stopping a behavior as not eating junk food. They found in this study, that people who had approach-oriented New Year’s resolutions had a higher success rate. This suggests that rephrasing goals to be more approach-oriented can have a better outcome. So instead of saying “I want to stop sitting on the couch” try rephrasing it to be “I will start going for daily walks,” and that might increase your chances of achievement. Changing the way, you approach your goals can be greatly beneficial but there also needs to be time set out to achieve them. There is a common stigma that people who stick to their New Year’s Resolutions tend to have stronger willpower than those who do not. This thought is debunked by a systematic review published in 2015 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that argues creating positive habits is more beneficial to fulfilling goals than willpower. The studies focused on whether people with beneficial habits were more likely to show self-control and complete their goals. People with higher self-control were found to be more likely to have a set time when they would wake up and go to bed. They also showed to be consistent in positive behaviors such as working out and eating well and were less tempted to break their routines. This leads to the idea that people with beneficial habits are more likely to continue positive routines. So how can we keep our goals this year? We can start by rephrasing our goals to make sure that they are approach-oriented and then set out time to make them habits. Remember that habits are formed through repetition so give time to your goals so they can become an everyday routine. Make time to start your day off with a healthy breakfast, ask a friend if they would like to come with you on walks, or reach out to a trained professional to find other ways to make this year the best year. “It is the best time to show gratitude for the past, accept the present moment with joy, and get ready for the change to begin again.” ― Debasish Mridha, MD

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