We are just a few days into 2020 and many of us have set some resolutions to change certain health behaviors (among other things).  Many of us vow to lose weight, stop smoking, begin exercising, quit drinking, go to bed earlier and/or a variety of any or all the lifestyle changes necessary to improve our health and wellness habits.  There’s something about that fresh new blank page of the new year that inspires us to do something different with our lives. Making resolutions seems to be part of our nature and it is in fact a pretty ancient ritual. It dates back over 4000 years; to the ancient Babylonians who thought if they kept their word (aka- resolution) the gods they worshipped would bestow good fortune on them.   

But do New Year’s resolutions work?  What makes some people able to keep them while others struggle and quit within a month or two?   Let’s look at some of the best ways to make your desired changes stick and how to find the support and tools you need to do so.  

Notice I didn’t say ‘resolutions’; I instead referred to the outcome as your ‘desired change’.  The implication of the word “Resolution” connotes a firm demand; a kind black and white. all or nothing thinking that sometimes can bring out our rebellious inner toddler. We fantasize like a child about our resolutions, as if magically we will transform just because the clock turns past midnight on Jan 1.  The whole idea of changing at the stroke of midnight like Cinderella, while completely a terrific idea, is fraught with pitfalls and a bit fragile in its makeup. The US News and World Report states that the failure rate for New Year’s resolutions is about 80% and most lose their will to implement the changes they want by the middle of February.

What makes some people give up while others (20%) make the real changes?

People change when they are ready:  Is your resolution truly a desired change?  Scale it. If you asked yourself “Am I ready to take action on this behavior right now at 12:01am January 1?”; what would the intensity of that desire be rated? Would you be at a 9 or 10 as in “I really want this” or are you at a 2 or 3 as in “well, maybe I will do this, but I don’t think I will.”  This gives you a real picture of just how much you want this change and how dedicated your will power will be to sustain it. Based on “The Transtheoretical Model of Health Behavior Change”; if you feel that 9 or 10 scale of intensity, you would be in the “Action” stage of what is called “Readiness to Change” and highly likely to be successful (one of those 20% who succeed).  If you are at a 2 -3 intensity, this means that perhaps you are not ready to make the changes yet. There are many psychological factors at play here and you may just be wishfully thinking about a change, not feeling very confident that you can do it and really not sure of how to go about some of the necessary changes- you find that you feel you are overwhelmed more than you feel clarity.  You are in this place of uncertainty- where you may KNOW you probably need to change some health behaviors but don’t feel confident you can. You may feel some self-blame, and criticize yourself. You may just be feeling like the change is wishful thinking. You may be in a little bit of denial about the risks and consequences of your poor health habits. In this instance, it is beneficial to work with a Rolling Strong Wellness coach and your health professional.  These are people that are trained in Health Behavior Change and can help you gain both the clarity and confidence to move forward. Change takes time and there should be no self-blame for being where you are. What is important is to know where you are at with an honest assessment, break your biggest goal into steps and then again smaller goals and then smaller steps. Make each step attainable to move towards your overall change.  

Ready to Change?   If you are at that 9 or 10 scale of intensity with the desire to change there are a few scientifically backed ways to help you navigate your environment to support your desired changes.  

  • Stimulus Control: Research shows that it is very beneficial to place reminders of your WHY to reinforce your willpower to stay on track.  Say, for instance, you are quitting smoking because your WHY is that you want to be around to see your grandchildren grow up.  In this case, placing their adorable faces around all the areas where you would go to smoke normally would be a reminder which is known scientifically as a ‘stimulus control’.  
  • Positive Thinking:  Stay positive and affirming your New You every day is also beneficial.
  • Reward Yourself for each positive step you achieve:  Anyone who has ever raised a child or even trained a pet starts to realize the benefits that small rewards can have on reinforcing a desired behavior.  And if you ever successfully used the technique that psychologists call Applied Behavior Analysis you come to realize that if successfully applied, the reinforcements are slowly faded as the new desired behavior becomes self- rewarding (known as an intrinsic reward).  Adults are no different. Planning a small succession of rewards for oneself helps to reinforce our own behaviors. This could be a self-care day off, new clothes, a weekend trip somewhere. Reward yourself for each achieved step. You’re worth it.
  • Structure your Environment:  This means to practice Avoidance Strategies.  Clean out the holiday junk food in the pantry so it’s not there to tempt you and restock the pantry and fridge with fresh whole foods that sustain healthy weight loss and nourish your body.  Get rid of all the ashtrays and restructure the time frames that you would usually smoke with an alternative behavior like a walk or an exercise class. Give away the extra bottles of wine or beer and steer clear of the places where you might stop for a drink or friends that don’t support you.  

Whether you are ready for the Big Change or just want to take baby steps as you learn more about your desired health change it is critical that you manage the process of setting goals so that your Goals are not merely Wishes.

How to set a Goal and Achieve it Successfully:

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

  1. Step One:  Write it down.  If a goal isn’t written down, it’s not real.  Write it down NOW and make sure you keep it where you can see it every day.  Have it pop up as a Google reminder every day on your phone, put it on your nightstand and in your kitchen and in your vehicle.  Remind yourself every day what your goal is and WHY you want it.
  1. Journal it:  When you write down a goal, be prepared to keep writing.  Grab a blank notebook and work on the steps below. Journaling is key to being successful at your goals.  It helps you lay out the steps to achieve your goal, ponder your possible obstacles, work through the emotions like happiness, fear, and overwhelm that can come along with making changes. 
  1. Set a Start Date:  If you didn’t start on New Year’s you’ve still got 12 months to start.  Pick a date.  
  1. Ask yourself how you will know when you have reached your goal?  Is it a certain number on the scale; certain numbers in your blood work, your waist circumference or body fat measurement?  It could be a physical challenge goal of running a 5 K or making it to the gym three times per week or finishing a Rolling Strong workout every day and logging it in.  The important thing is to be SPECIFIC about the goal. Saying you are going to “lose weight’ is not specific. Saying you are going to lose 15 lbs from January 1st through March 31 is specific and you will easily know whether you made the goal.
  1. Ask yourself WHY is this goal important to me?  What is your WHY. Write that down too! If you don’t know why this goal is important to you then think about why you want it as a goal.  A goal needs to be personally important to you.
  1. Visualize the Outcome:  When you visualize this new you, really ‘step into’ what it feels like to _______(be 20 lbs lighter, be a non-smoker, be fit and strong).  Don’t simply ‘see’ yourself, FEEL it as if it has already occurred. This is called Manifestation using Visualization and it works!
  1. Action Steps:  Look at your goal and list at least 5 actions that will bring your closer to the goal.  If you are losing weight, the actions might be 
  • Cleaning out the Pantry and shopping once a week for fresh whole foods to eat
  • Exercising for 30 minutes five times per week at a high enough intensity to achieve my maximum heart rate
  • Drinking half my body weight in fluid ounces every day
  • Weigh myself weekly to stay on track
  • Logging my food in my Rolling Strong App to stay in calorie limits and eating sufficient protein
  1. Then take each one of these Action Steps daily and implement.
  1. Plan for Obstacles and Setbacks:  No one likes set-backs but they do happen and you need to prepare for it.  Use the steps above: Stimulus Control, Positive Thinking, Reward and Structure of the Environment to ensure you don’t fall off track.  If it does happen, skip the self-blame and get right back on track. Example: Anticipate that social event with tons of tempting goodies by eating before you go or bringing along foods that fit in your nutrition plan.  Visualize how you might react if the host offers you a piece of cake. Affirm yourself and wear that new outfit that is a smaller size than 4 weeks ago. Focus on how good you will feel at the end of the party if you stay on track.  Planning can help you stay on track.


Becoming one of the 20%-ers that successfully empower themselves to change can happen for you.  Work with your Rolling Strong Coach to start your new journey. Coaches are trained in helping to facilitate Health Behavior Change and can help you clear the fog of uncertainty and doubt (and applaud and affirm your successes!)  Make 2020 a year of clarity and get started today.

By:  Cindy Luisi, WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach

Sources:

Pruitt, Sarah. “The History of New Year’s Resolutions.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 30 Dec. 2015, www.history.com/news/the-history-of-new-years-resolutions.

  Heller, Lois Jane, et al. “Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change.” Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, 2013, pp. 1997–2000., doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-1005-9_70.

Norcross, John & Mrykalo, Marci & Blagys, Matthew. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of clinical psychology. 58. 397-405. 10.1002/jclp.1151. 

Newman, Tim. “New Year’s Resolutions: Fail Rates and the Keys to Success.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326885.php#7.

Bridges, Frances. “5 Ways To Make Smarter New Year’s Resolutions.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Dec. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/francesbridges/2017/12/12/5-ways-to-make-smarter-new-years-resolutions/#135fd61054f1

Goal Setting For All.” Wise Goals, www.wisegoals.com/.

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