As this new year approaches – I ask myself if a resolution of any kind is in order for me? Naturally I can think of a dozen or more things that I would like to either start or change up. But why is it so imperative that we accomplish this on the first of the calendar year or the first day of the week? I mean shouldn’t we be able to do this at any time when we put our mind to it? Or is there something to say about ‘when’ specifically?
Being as though I personally have been waiting for a perfect time to start a new exercise and healthy eating routine – that I’ve been very successful with in the past; I decided to do some research on “why” we need a “perfect” time to make changes in our lives anyway?
Maligned Mondays are actually days that tap into the “fresh start effect,” when we feel like “a new person,” ready to take on a change in habits, according to a recently released report. And for some reason this holds true for me all the time…I always want to start new things on Mondays.
“On certain days, called temporal landmarks, you just have a different view of yourself,” says Jason Riis, visiting professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of the recently released report. “You become more forward looking.”
People think, “I am going to be a new person and … I am no longer going to be a part of the path of failure,” says Hengchen Dai, a co-author of the paper and doctoral student at Penn. “It’s changing the perception of the self.”
But even if you want to make a change, it is not easy to make systematic changes in your behavior. We have habits that get in the way of achieving our goals. We also have constructed an environment that supports our behavior and have surrounded ourselves with people who help us.
You first have to focus on positive goals rather than negative ones. A positive goal is an action you want to perform; a negative goal is something you want to stop doing. Your habits are memories of actions you perform in a particular situation. You can’t learn not to do something, so if you focus yourself only on stopping behaviors, you will never develop new habits.
More people also need to make realistic plans for what they want to change about themselves. If you want to start going to the gym more often, it is not enough to say that you want to go to the gym three times a week. Where is that going to fit on your calendar? You need to pick specific days and add that to your agenda. Unless you get specific, you will have a hard time identifying all of the obstacles that will get in your way. Put the gym on your calendar Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. That is specific enough to give you a fighting chance of succeeding.
People need to make changes to their environment as well. We tend to do things that are easy. A big key to behavior change is to make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard. During the past 50 years, the successful public health campaign to get people to stop smoking has succeeded in part because it is now virtually impossible to smoke in public buildings. As a result, people in the workplace or in restaurants or bars can’t just pick up a cigarette and light it. They have to walk outside. The undesirable behavior has been made hard to do.
Finally, after New Year’s Day, you need to be kind to yourself. Real behavior change is hard. There are days when you will succeed and others when you will fail. On the days you fail, treat that as an opportunity to learn about what to do in the future rather than as a reason to give up. People really can succeed with their New Year’s resolutions. They just have to plan ahead.
The motto that I bring from this research is to pick ‘whatever day’ or ‘whatever time of year’ that resonates with you and your life; give yourself a perfect opportunity to start a resolution; project or change and just go for it.
Keep this in mind – Polls have found that by springtime, 68% of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution have broken it. After one year, only 15% claim success.
Don’t be so hard on yourself and give yourself permission to fail…remembering to learn from any failures. Don’t despair. The secret to self-improvement is persistence, not perfection. Change is failing and learning from it. When you fall; get back up; dust yourself off and keep on keeping on!
….I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes from the very successful Thomas Edison –