There is so much cultural baggage attached to making a New Year’s resolution, the act almost feels destined to fail. As if January resolutions are an annual half-hearted tradition, like making a wish when you blow out your birthday candles. Unfortunately, research shows that resolutions can be about as effective as birthday wishes. One study found that just eight percent of resolvers actually achieve their goal. The online fitness community Strava crunched their data to find the actual day that most people give up on their dreams of self-transformation, and the result is depressing: January 12.
The reality is, New Year’s Resolutions can be a powerful engine for change, but most people are doing them wrong. Making a change, any change, is a form of stress and everyone has a finite capacity for handling stress. If your resolutions include eating better, exercising more, saving money, and drinking less alcohol, that is a huge load to add to a lifestyle that most likely endures a fair amount of stress already.
We have come up with a simple list of Do’s and Don’ts that will increase the likelihood of achieving your goals for 2020. At the very least, they should be enough to get you past January 12.
Don’t be Unrealistic
You need to make reasonable resolutions. If your list includes complete transformations in your physique, career, finances, and love life, you are destined for disappointment. Find one or two very specific goals, break them into manageable short-term steps, and stay focused on those.
Do Change Your Diet and Training Together
This is the one exception to the above rule. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that individuals who sought to increase their weekly exercise and eat more healthfully (although not necessarily for weight loss) were more successful when they implemented both lifestyle changes together. This is undoubtedly because one fuels the other. If you decide to undertake these goals separately, the scientists found that tackling exercise first and then nutrition seemed to be the most successful strategy.
Don’t Be Impatient
Social scientists have found that a major stumbling block to sticking to your resolution is the “False Hope Syndrome.” If you harbor unrealistic expectations about the speed and ease with which you will accomplish self-change, you are more likely to give up in frustration. Think of it this way: A healthy rate of weight loss is about six to eight pounds a month. Depending on your size and training experience, adding 10 pounds of muscle in 12 months is an amazing year. The moral of the story is, be prepared to be patient when it comes to body transformations.
Do Post it on Social Media
It’s not often that social media actually enhances fitness goals, but a study published in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine found that Twitter can actually help you stick to your weight loss goals. The research found that when subjects stated their resolutions publicly, on Twitter in this case, their odds of success improved. The authors of the study hypothesized that sharing goal taps into a basic human need for social connection, in an endeavor (weight loss, in this case) that can feel isolated and lonely. The positive reinforcement subjects received from status updates also helped long-term motivation.
Don’t Fixate on January 1
The most important lesson to remember is that ultimately January 1 is just a day like any other. If you become a January 12 casualty, don’t take it too hard. Just get over it and start again the next day. When you are enjoying the fruits of your labor on December 31, 2020, you’ll never remember that early-January glitch in your plan, as long as you continue to rededicate yourself.