It’s a new year, and if you’re like all of the rest of us, the calendar just offered you a powerful opportunity to create a new narrative for your life. New Year’s resolutions, it turns out, can be quite effective and emancipating. They allow us to create a milestone in time—a demarcation, so that we can view the melting of the winter solstice into springtime as a grand opportunity for a fresh start. The celebratory burst we indulge in on New Year’s can cast a glow over our resolutions as well. Positive reinforcement is strong at this time of the year, as everybody resolves to do better. In fact, New Year’s beats all other days hands down for change and new resolutions.
Health concerns, including a healthier diet, weight loss, and an exercise program, top the list of New Year’s resolutions and google searches. New Year’s inspires significantly more people to search google about diet than even a New York Times article about the successful clinical trial of a diet pill.1
But even though 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions only a paltry 8% achieve them. Worse still, according to the CDC, only 6.5% of Americans practice the five healthy habits that could add 12-14 years to their life. Those five healthy habits are: no smoking, regular exercise, moderate or no alcohol use, healthy body weight, and adequate sleep.
If you want to be one of those lucky few who make and keep your resolutions for a healthier, more energetic, happier you in the new year, here are some scientifically tested tips.
1. Enhance Your Willpower
We get up in the morning, think about last night’s ice cream binge, and promise ourselves to eat healthy foods today. We swear off ice cream for good. But when evening rolls around, and food cravings prove irresistible, that vanilla or pistachio or coffee premium quart of ice cream beckons from the freezer. Well, just tonight…one more night…
Where did our willpower vanish to? According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, most of us do cite willpower as the big reason we can’t meet our goals. Seventy-five percent of Americans say a lack of willpower keeps them overweight. We know that willpower is the ability to delay gratification, to resist impulses and desires, to rely on the ‘coolness’ of rational thought and not the “heat” of emotion and desire. Conscious regulation of the self by the self.
Willpower is definitely connected to health. One study of a thousand individuals in New Zealand found that those with high self-control in childhood had greater mental and physical health as adults. Moreover, losing your willpower actually affects your physical health: individuals whose willpower has been depleted have lower activity in a brain region involved with cognition, and lower blood-glucose levels.
But there’s good news: you can actually ramp up your willpower quotient. First, try to avoid situations that are ripe with temptation. Don’t keep that ice cream in your freezer. Research shows those with the strongest self control try to avoid situations that would tempt them.
Second, reward yourself in order to increase your motivation. If you stick to your diet and exercise goals for a week or a month, pay yourself with a movie, a getaway weekend, a new pair of jeans.
Finally, realize that the more willpower you exercise, the more you strengthen your willpower “muscle.” You get better at being disciplined. A fascinating study followed smokers who exercised willpower for two weeks by avoiding sweets or regularly squeezing a handgrip. They were more successful at quitting smoking than individuals who had not strengthened their willpower. And volunteers who exercised regularly for two months also reported eating healthier food, drinking less alcohol, smoking less, and improving their study habits. Their willpower quotient soared.
2. Set Challenging Goals, But Don’t Worry If You Slip Up Sometimes
Studies show that we’re motivated by setting tough-to-reach goals, rather than very easy ones. Who do do you think better achieves their goals—someone asked to complete a task five days a week, someone asked to complete the same task seven days a week, or someone asked to complete it seven days a week, but with the proviso that they are allowed to slip up and skip two days a week without consequence? It’s the third group (who is actually doing the same five days a week as the first group) that performs best. They are motivated by the more challenging goal, but they let themselves off the hook if they don’t quite meet it. One study showed this approach of high motivation but flexibility and self-forgiveness could nearly double performance.
3. Share Your Goals and Celebrate Your Success
Sharing your resolutions with friends and family, and even asking them to help support you in your quest, is effective. You are asking others to hold your intentions for you, and to hold you to them. If you sick with healthy meals for a week, tell your partner or friends. And celebrate. Celebrating when you achieve a milestone reinforces your new, healthier behavior. Celebrating stimulates the reward centers in your brain, flooding you with feel-good neurotransmitters, and you’re likelier to stick with your goals because you want more of that.
4. Think Big But Start Small
Big goals are sometimes best achieved by starting small. Health coach Chris Kesser, M.S., L.Ac has an excellent guide here. Some examples: don’t decide you’re going to meditate an hour a day for all of the coming year. Start out by finding a good place in your home to meditate, buying a meditation cushion, downloading a meditation app, and then perhaps meditating just a few minutes a day. Keep going, says Kesser, “you’ve worked your way up to regular, longer meditation sessions. Eventually, you’ll no longer need any guided help, and you’ll have built a new habit.”
In other words: set small, realistic, and attainable goals. Build on them to accomplish larger goals.
5. Start Slow and Gentle With Diet, Exercise and Detox Protocols
There is no one right diet, exercise, or detox program for all of us. Some will be triathletes and others will practice yoga in the peace of their own home to mediation music. Some will go vegan and others will eat Whole30 or keto. How do you know it’s time for a detox program, and which one should you choose?
Some signs you may need a detox include: seasonal allergies, fatigue, food sensitivities, frequent colds, digestive distress, sugar cravings, skin problems such as rashes, itching or acne breakouts. But detox programs run the gamut from a few days to a few months. Here again, you may want to think big but start small. You can start with a simple detox program that is a few days on and a few days off. You may want to use gentle stimulants like herbal and bitter botanicals to activate your digestive system, and gentle binder formulas to mop up and intercept toxins in the gut. This kind of detox can be incorporated easily and simply into your daily life, and help prepare you for more intensive approaches later on.
With these tips and insights, you should be well on your way to the new you that you’ve always wanted to be.
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