2019! – Another year is upon us. New Year’s Resolutions are a big favorite for all of us on New Year’s Eve. This is the year to lose the extra weight, this is the year to finally get in shape, 2019 is the one where that sugar addiction has to go. And then a couple weeks in, most of us fall back into our old ways, and forget about the big New Year’s Resolutions.

Research by the University of Minnesota show that 80 percent of us fall off the aspirational wagon before Valentine’s Day. Why is it so difficult to hang on to our New Year’s Resolutions?

The study says that it’s difficult for most of us to keep our brain fixated on one thing for that long without new goals (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15559708) and regular rewards.

Basically, we would like to think long term when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, but we forget about them quickly as we start hustling into the new year.

And let’s be honest, if New Year’s Resolutions were that easy, we wouldn’t make such a big deal of them every year, right? – However, it’s uniquely human to make New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, we’re not just able to have these goals, we’ve evolved to crave these goals, to have a higher purpose than just living.

What are the most common New Year’s Resolutions you might ask? – Well, here are the top three:

1. Weight loss
The most common resolution is to shed the holiday weight gain. The bad news: If weight loss is your goal, you’re likely to be disappointed. There is a lot that can be done to change your body shape (both natural and surgical), but studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2253845) suggest we all have a genetically-determined range that our bodies are most comfortable in. It’s easy to lose weight at first – our bodies have more fat to burn, so metabolism ticks along smoothly. But as your fat reserves dry up, your metabolism slows, and so does your progress.

2. Quitting smoking
Of course, nicotine addiction and withdrawal symptoms are a big one here. Being around other smokers is another significant obstacle. For many, finding a replacement for the relaxing feeling of dragging on a cigarette is hard. It’s common to snack instead – and once you see weight gain, it’s easy to give up altogether.

3. Going tech-free
Today, everything is geared towards apps, social media, and being online. Whether it’s to communicate with friends, research something for work, or login to a WiFi network – you’re constantly being lured back in. What’s more, you may simply start to get that itch to go back. And many of these apps and sites have notifications that act as little nuggets of reward – someone invited you to something, or liked your comment, or shared your post. Those alerts are to users like ringing bells were to Pavlov’s dogs – irresistible.

The wrong way to approach New Year’s Resolutions
Don’t kid yourself that you just weren’t determined enough last year. It takes a stronger plan than just sheer will to keep going. You can’t attack this in a piecemeal way. Doing things to exercise your brain could help. You really need to exercise all the machinery in a more holistic way, so you are better equipped to keep your promises to yourself.

The right way to stick with New Year’s Resolutions

1. Be prepared for the plateau
A study (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/nbu.12002) backed by Slimming World in 2013 found a quick-fix diet can only get you so far at the start of your workout. Later on, exercise becomes crucial, you’ll need to find a more sustainable diet, and ‘remain vigilant, to catch slips in behavior that may lead to weight regain.’

2. Set some clear goals
Studies have shown that setting goals (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15559708) could prolong dietary and exercise efforts – but the jury is out on exactly what methods to use.

3. Think about why you made these resolutions
In mid-February, take a moment to reset and reflect on what you’ve done so far. Think about what you’ve achieved, what you want to achieve before March, and why.

4. Try some brain exercises
Trying intensive, repetitive activities to keep your brain nimble. Apps like BrainHQ, or even increasingly complex su doku puzzles, could help exercise various aspects of your brain. If your brain is really vital, if it’s really in command, if it’s really stable and not easily carried off the mark, you’re going to keep your commitments.

Most importantly, don’t be too harsh on yourself. Some goals will stick, others might not. Use a more playful approach to try to stick with your New Year’s Resolutions, and you might find yourself very surprised as how successful your approach can be.

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