Three keys to keeping your New Year's resolution
Promise to be better next year? ... you're not alone. Photo: Julian Kingma
There are the self-restrained celestial few who will toast the new year with a square of chocolate and a chamomile.
Top tips for a successful resolution: 1. Set achievable goals instead of ideal goals. 2. Expect setbacks. 3. Don't use excuses or setbacks to put it off for another year.
As for the rest of us unsavoury souls, we baste ourselves with booze and slur that, as of January 2, we will be better behaved.
We promise this year, it will be different. Honest to God.
Around 50 per cent of Australians make a New Year's resolution and there's around an 88 per cent failure rate. But don't let the that put you off. Resolutions aren't redundant.
"You've got to make a start somewhere," says Sydney University psychologist, Professor Thiagarajan Sitharthan, who specialises in addiction. "We know they fail, but they fail because [people] make one blip and give up. They say 'I tried, but it failed so what's the point of trying?'
"Include slip-ups as part of your resolution. They're not the end of the world. You just carry on with your journey."
A journey that takes different people different amounts of time. Contrary to the popular belief that it takes 28 days to break a bad habit, research shows it can take up to a year.
In fact, Sitharthan says it takes most people three or four serious attempts at a goal to get there.
"I like the bicycle analogy,'" he says. When someone gets on a bike for the first time, they can rarely ride straight away. "You fall down a few times first... you need training wheels."
Knowing this is important, given there's reward in our failure. Whenever we act on our old, bad habits we get a sweet, comforting hit of dopamine, before the angst and guilt inevitably set in. This has many of us bypassing the long-term benefits for short-term joy.
This is particularly pertinent at a time of year, namely New Year's Day, when we're psychically and physically feeling the pain. It also explains why hair of the dog is so appealing when we have one hell of a hangover.
But enduring a period of discomfort is par for the course when we're trying to make a change, Sitharthan says.
Creating a new habit is a skill. "Any new skill takes time to develop," he explains. "There will be mistakes... There will be a sense of awkwardness, but that doesn't mean failure.
"After two week it gets easier, after two months it gets easier still and after two years it's a second habit."
In the meantime, resetting our expectations can help, he says. For a resolution to work "it's got to be achievable, not ideal."
For instance, instead of going cold turkey on our vices, we're better off making bite-sized chunks of progress. "I'm very lazy doing exercise," Sitharthan says, using himself as an example. "If I say I'll start doing two hours a day, seven days per week, that's ideal." But, unlikely.
"If I say I'll do 30 minutes a day, three days a week, that's achievable."
Even more achievable if he enlists a buddy to do it with him. Support and encouragement are essential when it comes to achieving a goal, he says. At the same time we can't use a lack of encouragement or negative emotions as an excuse.
People often tell him they will happily stop drinking, gambling, taking drugs et cetera "if my wife doesn't annoy me, if I don't feel bored, if I don't feel lonely," Sitharthan says. "People give themselves an excuse to... go back to the old habit."
But boredom, loneliness, annoyance or frustration with others are inevitable so we set ourselves up for failure if we adopt a conditional attitude.
Instead, we need to accept that there will be obstacles, challenges and, of course, setbacks.
Reward yourself for progress (not with your vice), keep your eye on the prize and remember the reason you've chosen to do it, Sitharthan advises.
"This is a journey... keep on going and you will reap the benefits."
Sitharthan's top tips for a successful resolution:
1. Set achievable goals instead of ideal goals.
2. Expect setbacks.
3. Don't use excuses or setbacks to put it off for another year.