All of us have a desire to make changes in our lives. Maybe it’s the annoying little habit that drives those around you crazy; maybe you chew with your mouth open, or like the majority of us, binge too much and eat a whole packet of M&Ms in one sitting.
Perhaps you’re committed to taking on a new hobby, or finally taking that trip of a lifetime you’ve been planning for 10 years, but never seem to get around to. Either way, with 2017 behind us, it’s that time again where we decide what are we going to do differently in the coming year. But with so many New Year’s resolutions falling short, what’s the psychology behind making them stick?
It’s all in your head
The biggest reason we often fail to keep up with New Year’s resolutions is from a lack of perseverance, which can stem from a misunderstanding of failure.
In the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and famous TED Talk, Dr Angela Lee Duckworth, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, summarises this. She says that those who are quick to fall completely off the bandwagon do so because they often see failure as a permanent condition, rather than a temporary setback.
Duckworth argues that it doesn’t matter what hand of cards you’re dealt in this life; the only differentiator between those that succeed and those that fail, is grit—the combination of passion and perseverance. Sound a bit Disney-esque? According to a study conducted by the University College London, it’s true. The key to breaking bad habits, starting new ones and adopting lifestyle changes is not in willpower, discipline or action, but in having realistic goals and intentions.
Try and and try again
The strongest people are not those who never make mistakes. The strongest are actually those who make a lot of mistakes, but learn from them. These people likely produce plenty of dopamine too—the fuel that keeps people motivated in life, to persevere and achieve a goal. Ultimately, you have the power to increase your production of dopamine by changing your attitude and behaviour.
In one instance, Associate Professor of Exercise and Health Sciences at UMass, Jean Wiecha, released a study that looked at the effects of obesity battles in children. The study identified higher levels of dopamine were linked to the formation of habits in childhood: spending time with loved ones, partaking in exercise, and having enough leisure time. Wiecha believed that through the reprogramming of the mind, we have the ability to change how we perceive ourselves and actually learn to love and desire alternative healthy behaviours.
Enjoy the ride
We all want to make a great start to the New Year. The final key to making the ‘new you’ stick is to simply enjoy the journey. Each time we fail or fall back into a bad habit, it’s easy to feel like nothing has changed, leaving us discouraged. But in order to keep up positive actions, we need to utilise a positive attitude.
If our mood is running low, forming positive habits often disappear—we go back to eating more and exercising less, for example. When we’re feeling good, we’re more likely to continue manifesting positive actions. So often, the key to making good habits stick, is to trust the journey and create a positive, healthy attitude towards our expectations.
Interested to learn more about the mind and how to influence behaviour? If further study is on the cards for you in 2018, explore the range of online psychology degrees from leading Australian unis, on offer through Open Universities Australia.