Health

The psychological secrets to successful resolutions

  • 1 January 2017
  • From the section Health
Man and woman exercising in the park Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption It's important to have achievable goals

After the excesses of the festive season, the thoughts of many turn to making resolutions to stop bad habits and take up healthier ones.

Unfortunately, quite a few fail.

But there are some psychological tactics which can be employed to increase the chances of success.

1. Persistence

Psychologist Prof Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, has carried out research into the key to sticking to resolutions.

In a study of 5,000 people who made resolutions, it was those with a "fatalistic attitude" who were less likely to succeed.

He advises it's more than likely old habits will creep back in sometimes, so see those occasions as temporary set-backs and not a reason to give up altogether.

"Failure is the main thing that stops people If, on day one of their diet, they raid the biscuit tin, they think 'that's it' and give up. But persistence is the key. Start again the next day."

2. Spread the word

Support from friends and family can help people stick to their goals.

But Prof Wiseman says women might be more likely to benefit. "They are generally better at offering moral support. Men tend to try and encourage you to have more dessert."

3. Plotting progress

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Noting down progress can help

This can be something public like a blog - or the fridge door - or more privately, in a spreadsheet or a journal.

It might help to note down each gym visit, or decision not to have cake.

Prof Wiseman also advises having a checklist to show how life will be better once your goals are achieved - and allow small rewards throughout the process to keep up motivation levels.

4. Have achievable goals

It has to be something specific that can be realistically achieved.

Running a marathon, say, would be too much for a non-runner to aim for, while a vague desire to 'get fit' is hard to measure.

"Maybe start by saying you'll go to the gym once a week, then you can look at moving up to two," advises Prof Wiseman.

And be realistic - it's best to choose one thing to focus on rather than having a raft of goals to increase the chances of success.

5. Understand triggers

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Quitting smoking is a common resolution

This is important in terms of knowing what prompts behaviour you want to avoid - and to help encourage healthier habits.

"It could be as simple as not having biscuits in the house so you're not tempted - or understanding the stress triggers that make you reach for a cigarette," Prof Wiseman says.

And he says it's possible to create new triggers to prompt you in your new, healthier habits.

"You can decide that when the news starts, that's the time when you set off for the gym".

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