Somehow, it’s already February 2022. And if you’re like me, you spent the end of January wondering: Where did that burst of energy go? You know, the burst of energy that had you smashing your plans for the new year, striving toward your resolutions and long-term goals, calling your friends more often, or going to the gym every day?
After a few weeks (or maybe even a few days), it’s easy to lose that initial motivation to work toward new goals for the new year. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns and habits. And hey, they’re habits for a reason. According to a study conducted by psychologists Benjamin Gardner and Amanda Rebar, our habits are regulated by impulses. This is by design, so habits can be completed “with minimal cognitive effort, awareness control, or intention.” Habits are meant to be beyond our “motivational and volitional control.”
This is great when the instinctive habit is something like washing dishes after dinner, acting respectfully toward professors, or plugging in your phone before going to sleep. It’s not so great when it comes to unhealthy habits, or habits we want to break, which is usually the case with New Year’s resolutions. We fall back on our habits without thinking, and it’s difficult to unlearn this natural inclination.
For example, I have a habit of looking at my phone each night before I sleep, checking all of my unread messages, resolving notifications, listening to music, maybe watching a video on YouTube. I know that looking at my phone right before bed makes it harder to fall asleep, yet I keep doing it anyway. My habit overrides my brain.
So how should we achieve our resolutions, exactly? I want to offer a few tips and tricks from my own experience and research that might help you overcome those habits you want to kick and keep those resolutions going.
- None of us will get anywhere until we admit what we want to change. That’s why my first tip is to acknowledge what your existing habits are. The bad ones, AND the good. Give yourself credit for the habits you know are helping you, like getting schoolwork done before Sunday night, or drinking water at each meal. And write down, or at least acknowledge to yourself, anything you want to change. This is your starting point.
- Secondly, when you’re setting new goals, be realistic. No one wants to hear this, but it’s true. If you haven’t exercised in months, don’t expect yourself to run every day; in fact, don’t try to run every day, or you might get hurt! The beauty of setting goals is that they can change or grow over time. So maybe in a few months, you can run every single day, but for now, maybe start with two or three times a week. Moreover, being realistic means that if you don’t accomplish your “goals” every single day, it’s okay. Instead of giving up completely, it’s better to give yourself grace, then get right back to it.
- Instead of falling back on habits, give yourself a strategy to “fall back” on. What do I mean by this? If you want to override the habit that’s overriding your rational instincts, you need to be purposeful about it. For example, one New Year’s goal of mine is to write something every day. Waiting until 11pm every day is an easy way for me to lose track of accomplishing this goal. If I instead try to write in the mornings and leave it to the evening only if I truly need to, I’ll be much more likely to actually fulfill this goal, because I’ve built into my goal a strategy to “fall back” on.
- One habit is great, but what if you have two or three or more you want to implement? That’s where habit pairing or habit stacking comes into play. I learned this tip from one of my favorite YouTubers, the Bliss Bean. The gist is this: pair your new habits with your old ones. Let’s say you want to start listening to news podcasts more in 2022, but you don’t think you have time in an already busy schedule. If you already walk to the dining hall or to a class across campus every morning, why not try listening while you’re walking? Here’s another example: you probably shower and brush your teeth every night already. If one of your goals is to stretch more, then mentally pair stretching with those habits that already exist. After a while, your brain will accommodate your new habits as part of your old ones; it’s a win-win.
- And finally, make sure your resolutions are for you, and not to win the attention or praise of others. A goal motivated by others’ perceptions of you is never going to last long, and it won’t make you feel fulfilled, either. Because of this, I recommend holding off on sharing your new resolutions on social media. Online, it’s too easy to let external validation become your motivation. Instead, focus on those habits and goals that make you feel happy, proud, and satisfied for your own sake. Forming new habits and achieving new goals can be difficult, but you have the mental power to do it. You got this!
Sources:Gardner, B., & Rebar, A. Habit Formation and Behavior Change. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Retrieved 10 Feb. 2022, from https://oxfordre.com/psychology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.001.0001/acrefore-9780190236557-e-129.