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Changing Habits

Psychology ONE New Years Goals

As the year draws to a close and a new one begins, we are often inclined to make New Year’s Resolutions.  The tradition started around 4,000 years ago when the Babylonians would celebrate their New Year by holding a festival to honour their king and make promises to their Gods to pay debts or return borrowed items.  The Babylonians celebrated the New Year in mid-March to coincide with planting of the crops.  Julius Caeser adopted the tradition in ancient Rome, moving the New Year to January 1st, encouraging the Romans to be of good conduct for the coming year.  Similarly, the early Christians started the practice of a “Covenant Renewal Service”, again involving low-key celebrations and promises to be of good character.  Today’s tradition is less to do with religion and more to do with the desire to change habits or improve life in some way, whether that be to eat healthier, exercise more, or save money.  Studies show that no matter how motivated people are, a majority of us don’t stick to our resolutions past two weeks.  Whatever your New Year’s Resolution, if you have one, try to make it as easy as possible to stick to – here are some useful tips to help you do just that:

  1. Set a SMART goal. This means making a goal Specific (exactly what you want to achieve), Measurable (how you will measure your achievement), Action-oriented (involves taking action to achieve the goal), Realistic (can you realistically achieve your goal), and Time-framed (how long will you take to reach your goal).  Making SMART goals means you have the best possible chance of achieving your goal.
  2. Write a list of the reasons why you want to achieve your goal: e.g. I want to exercise more to get fitter and be better able to keep up with my grandchildren etc.  Consider what will happen if you don’t achieve your goal – this is sometimes motivating in itself. 
  3. Start with smaller and more manageable steps to your goal.  Sometimes people fail at goals as they try to change too many things at once.  You are more likely to achieve success if you start with smaller steps and build up to the larger ones: e.g. I will stop eating a chocolate bar at 3pm and swap it out for an apple instead, or I will spend 15 minutes each day walking and build up to more exercise and then join the gym.
  4. Swap your unhealthy habits for a rewarding behaviour, such as going walking with a friend rather than at your home, or meeting up for a coffee rather than having an alcoholic drink if that is the habit you are changing.
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up – it is often hard to stick to a goal, especially in the beginning.  Studies show that it takes 3 weeks to make a new habit.  Slip ups can happen at any time however and sometimes being too rigid or hard on yourself is more detrimental than being kind and simply acknowledging that you reverted to your old habit.  Monitor your self-talk for signs of negativity and counter-act with a pat on the back for the intention to change and the attempts that you make. 
  6. Visualising success can be useful and you can do this at any time.  Imagining your life as you would like it can be a powerful tool – repeated visualisation can re-wire the brain.
  7. Joining a group of like-minded people or having a buddy who is trying to change in the same way can be very helpful in terms of support. 

Whatever your resolution, following these few simple steps can help you to achieve them over time.  Remember why you chose this resolution in the first place – it is likely to be the best thing for you!  Happy New Year everyone!


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Picture of Sharon Connell

Sharon Connell

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