Does the New Year mean a new you — or another failed New Year's resolution? Probably the latter for most of us, psychologists say, because thinking the flip of a calendar is enough to motivate us to ax all of our bad habits and behaviors is actually really unrealistic.
"We typically make resolutions around our most challenging habits, such as losing weight, changing our diet, exercising more or stopping smoking," Timothy Pychyl, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University, tells NBC News BETTER.
First of all, we're not always as committed to those resolutions as we need to be to actually be motivated to stick with them, explains Pychyl, whose research focuses on procrastination and goal pursuit. (There's a difference between changes we think we should make as opposed to changes we actually want to make.) And instead of setting discrete, measurable goals for ourselves, we often set broad intentions, like "exercise more," he adds. "We don't think clearly enough about how we will implement this change."
Plus, there's the fact that we only have so much willpower we can turn to to help us stick to the new habits, adds Roy Baumeister, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University and author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. "When people try to make multiple changes, they put multiple demands on that limited willpower," he says — and end up failing.
That means the more willpower it takes to skip the afternoon cookie break, the less you'll have left to help you stick to your resolution to hit the gym that evening. (Baumeister's research has shown that willpower — a type of mental energy — is actually fueled by glucose and can be strengthened and fatigued, just like our muscles.)
What does work when it comes to resolutions is setting goals that are specific and attainable, so you know exactly what you need to do to accomplish it — and you do it.
Small changes add up, Elizabeth Beck, MPH, Professional Wellness Development & Education Coordinator at the National Wellness Institute, tells BETTER. "It's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that to make lasting and impactful changes, we must dive into something head first and dedicate a part of our lives to it," she says. "Small habits are much easier to grow and become big changes in our life."
Here a few such resolutions you can try in 2018 from Beck and other health and wellness experts that each take 10 extra minutes a day (or less), and can lead to BIG, impactful improvements for your health, happiness and well-being.
1. Set a daily intention
It can be as simple as deciding not to overreact if your kids or another family member gets on your nerves — or take a walk over your lunch hour instead of not leaving your desk. If you feel like you're living on auto-pilot, starting your day by setting a daily intention can help you feel more in control of your life and your actions, Jody Michael, founder of and executive coach at the career and wellness coaching company, Jody Michael Associates. And over time, those intentions can each serve as a small step toward big changes, she says.
2. Cross off the toughest task on you to-do list first
Figure out the toughest, most important or most intimidating task you want to get done by the end of the day and tackle it first, Annie Lin, founder of career consulting firm New York Life Coaching, suggests. That way it's done, so it's not hanging over your head or stressing you out the rest of the day.
"It will give you a tremendous sense of accomplishment," Lin says. And you can let those positive, productive vibes motivate the rest of your day.
3. Start a belly breathing habit
Shallow breathing keeps our bodies in that high-stress, fight-or-flight mode, Lin explains. But deep belly breathing sends a message to our brains to relax. Slowing down your breath can slow down the chatter in your head, and reduce stress and anxiety. (You may also find yourself thinking more clearly and sleeping better, Lin notes.)
How to do it: You can literally do this anytime and anywhere. Just, stop. Focus your attention on your breath. Let all your air out and take a deep inhale, then exhale, then repeat. "Even if you can only practice it a few times a day, you can still enjoy the benefit," Lin says.
4. Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Stairs are a great way to quickly get the body moving, the heart rate up, and increase your metabolic rate - no gym required, says Michael Castiglione, a New York City-based personal trainer and fitness coach. It's not the only change you'll need to make if you have big weight-loss goals or want to get from the couch to a marathon finish line — but it can be the first step to just get in the habit of moving more, which can encourage you to be more active in other areas of your life, too.
5. Apologize authentically
Whether you got in a tiff with a friend, family member or colleague, get better at apologizing by doing what you can to reconcile the conflict, rather than hold a grudge, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley, tells BETTER. It takes little risk and little time, but it can be intrinsically rewarding in a big way.
Being able to say you're sorry and mean it, makes it easier to get back to a positive mood after going through something difficult, Simon-Thomas says. "Positive states, like contentment, warmth and trust, are important to health, social connection and focus — and they confer an overarching sense of personal stability and resilience to stress."
6. Tell a family member or friend one thing that went well every week
Too often we get hung up on the little things that go wrong from day to day, rather than focusing on everything that's going right and what we have accomplished, Beck says. Talking (out loud) about something that we've achieved helps us remember our true potential and the impact we're having on the world around us.
7. Take 10 minutes every day to do something for YOU
It's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work emails, after-school carpool schedules and life's countless obligations. Spending 10 minutes of quality you-time could mean reading a magazine, meditating or playing with your pet, according to Beck. Focus on activities that not only make you feel good, but also relieve stress and improve your well-being (diving into a bag of potato chips or mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed are NOT the goal).
"When you take a moment to do something for you, you will start to feel a sense of calm in what otherwise may be a hectic day," Beck says.
And whichever resolution you choose, remember to be committed, celebrate the small successes as you do big ones and go easy on yourself, Pychyl says. "Be ready for setbacks and forgive yourself when you fail (which you WILL do)," he says. "Self-forgiveness re-establishes our motivation to try again."
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