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How to hack your New Year's resolution (and actually keep to it!)

The food has been eaten, the presents unwrapped, the belts loosened quite significantly. January has crept up on us once again, bringing with it renewed vows of improving habits and actually using that gym membership you bought months ago and have been guiltily watching slip out of your account ever since. It's a similar story every year; research found that one third of Brits make New Year’s Resolutions, but a whopping 88% of us fail to stick to them.

In fact, not only are we pretty rubbish at keeping to our resolutions, but psychologist Joseph Luciani believes they may do more harm than good. This is because it only takes is a couple of backsliding moments for people to feel an overwhelming sense of failure and inability to live up to our expectations of ourselves. Coupled with the excessive amount of marketing around New Year’s Resolutions, and the fact that social media only shows us snapshots of people seemingly sticking successfully to theirs, and the overall effect is quite disheartening.

So, should you give up on resolutions altogether? No. You just need to approach them in a healthier way.

The problem is, we as humans collectively tend to view New Year as some kind of magical transformative time. Giddy with glitter, prosecco, and fireworks, we enter a kind of denial which tells us that all the niggling little personal flaws and foibles that make us unique can easily be swept away on the wave of the new year. It’s a lovely and optimistic thought, but unfortunately it sets us up for failure every single year, because instead of setting achievable goals and having a realistic expectation of how much effort we’ll need to put in to reach them, we assume the magic of the new year will instantly make us able to achieve our wishes and curb our more unhealthy ways.

Want to lose weight? The new year will take care of that.

Keen to quit smoking? New year magic will work wonders.

Time to turn your spending habits around? New year, new you.

Only, that’s not how it works. We’re still the same person on January 1st that we were the night before. We still have an insatiable sweet tooth, a smoking habit, a tendency to splash out when we should be saving. Those personality traits do not magically explode with the fireworks, they stick around, and, by ignoring or dismissing them, we doom ourselves to short-lived resolution success.

Instead, what we should be doing, according to entrepreneur Elle Kaplan, is making our goals smaller and more achievable. 90% of people who set specific, challenging goals manage to achieve them, so Kaplan advises setting goals along the way so that your journey towards the ultimate end goal is broken into bitesize chunks of progress. In terms of a resolution to lose weight, for example, you should break the ultimate end goal of weight lost down into a certain manageable amount to lose per week. That way, you embark on a journey whose progress you can easily track and talk about with family and friends, which is much more manageable – and, indeed, enjoyable – than a lonely climb towards a seemingly unreachable end goal.

There are other hacks specific to other common resolutions, too. For those of you aiming to go vegetarian or vegan, some nutritionists recommend a flexitarian approach, setting aside certain days each week as your vegan and vegetarian days, and being less strict with yourself for the other days. Gradually, you can increase your vegan / vegetarian days, easing yourself into your new lifestyle rather than battling against the overwhelming urge for a bacon sandwich every day of the week! This also works if your resolution is to go to the gym more, as lengthening your gym sessions gradually or adding more of them over a period of weeks builds up your self-esteem because it is a measurable indication of progress.

Of course, there is no actual rule that says resolutions are solely the preserve of the new year period. Timothy Pychyl, a psychologist whose research focuses on procrastination, points out that the best way to get going with a resolution is simply to start it as soon as possible.

Think it, do it, simple.

Waiting for January 1st only puts extra cultural pressure on you, as well as potentially starting you off in a worse physical state than when you initially decided to make the resolution, due to the idea of “making the most of” the time left before starting your new diet or gym regime! If you commit to a resolution with minimal fanfare, and set small goals to tick off throughout the year, by the time New Year rolls around you can feel secure in the knowledge that you’ve already made steady progress. This means you’re less likely to give up, even if you give yourself the Christmas period off.

It’s worth noting, at this point, that research suggests it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. In practice, this means to give yourself the best chance of beating the New Year’s resolution curse, you should start just over two months in advance.

While this information isn’t much use for your 2018 resolutions, if you do fall short of your resolution hopes this year, you can take comfort in the knowledge that starting it at literally any point other than the new year will increase your chances of success next time!

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