04 Jan How to Keep Your New Year’s Promises!
In today’s blog post, Dr. Maria Nemeth welcomes the New Year with possibly the most popular question this season: How to keep your New Year’s promises? In this blog, she tells you exactly how: to use mindfulness techniques and the power of intention and create lasting positive changes in your life.
“Putting too much emphasis on changing one’s mindset overlooks research which shows most people change personal habits (behaviors) with support.”
— Psychology Today
Hello, and welcome to a brand New Year. Your brand New Year!
I’m grateful you’ve again chosen to read a short article straight from my heart to your eyes! If it’s your first time, thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll decide to stay a while.
This article will give you tips for picking the most auspicious promises possible. By “auspicious,” I mean beneficial, timely, and relevant promises. And by relevance, I suggest that your promises should relate to whatever is most important to you!
The above sounds like a mouthful if you try to read it aloud. But stick with me for a moment, and all will become clear. I “promise!”
Why do we create resolutions at the beginning of the year? Research suggests that there’s something called a “fresh start effect.” For some people, it occurs at the beginning of the year. For others, it may occur on one’s birthday, at the start of a month, or even a week. Once thought to take place only in Western cultures, studies show that the “fresh start effect” also occurs in the East.
I haven’t discovered if promises made during a “fresh start effect” are more resilient and likely to be kept than those made at any other time. But think about it for a moment: aren’t you attracted to new beginnings as a way to begin a new behavior?
I’ve had the privilege of coaching people to create and sustain new habits. That’s what’s at the heart of a resolution: the desire to shift our behavior to create better health, relationships, earnings, or leisure activities. Here’s what I’ve discovered regarding behavior change:
- Don’t go overboard! Our brain is designed to create behavior change incrementally. That means keeping our resolutions small and achievable. What? You were going to go strictly vegan, train for your first-ever marathon in two months, meditate for two hours each day and double your earning power within the next 90 days? Of course, I’m exaggerating for the point of emphasis but look at the string of behavior changes you’ve saddled your brain with. Is it time to pare down so you can create resolutions with more “sticking power?”
- Many of you might remember that I advocate “small, sweet steps” as a way to create lasting behavior change. Once you have designed no more than two resolutions (yes, keep breathing, two at a time will keep your brain from becoming hysterical), what are the smallest steps you can take that nevertheless give you the experience of moving forward? How about starting to meditate twenty minutes a day for two weeks, then increasing to two sessions at the beginning and end of each day? You get the picture, yes?
- Regarding keeping your resolutions relevant, go to the Life’s Intentions Inventory to see the reason why this resolution is important. We printed the link in the last article, but here it is again. Go through the list and look for Life’s Intentions fueling each of your two resolutions.
- Sweet Rewards or Ninja Promises: you choose what you know will keep you on track. There are two ways to ensure your brain adopts new behaviors.
The first, called Sweet Rewards, looks like this: look for something you’d love to do. Is it a day at the movies? Two massages in one week? A pedicure and manicure? Whatever it is, promise to reward yourself only if you’ve kept that promise for 30 days. After that, you can create the same reward structure after 60 days of performing the desired behavior. Our brain usually builds the synaptic connections necessary for lasting behavior change after maintaining that behavior for at least 90 days.
The Ninja Promise is equally, if not more, powerful to build a new behavior. Think of something you’d hate to do. For instance, is there a political party or non-profit organization that you’d detest to support? Promise to donate money to that organization if you haven’t kept that promise for 30 days. Then go for the 60-day reward structure outlined above. But here’s the deal: you must keep your word while making a Ninja promise. Therefore, make sure a friend is supporting you in doing it! In fact, you can ask them to help you make sure the promise is onerous enough! For some people, $200 for that organization isn’t big enough, while it is the perfect stretch that will make it painful for others. Be careful when you make a Ninja promise. Use it primarily for behaviors you know you need to change quickly. Smoking cessation is an example. Going to sleep at 10 pm instead of midnight might be another.
- Did I say get support? Yes, I did! No matter how you design the resolution, research shows that doing it in a support group of friends or colleagues increases the probability of a more permanent behavior change. So, go for it!
- Keeping yourself going by going easy on yourself. New behaviors take sustained energy to create synaptic pathways that become the “path of least resistance.” Be compassionate with your brain! Along those lines, you might practice looking for where you are making progress!
Your capacity to “Be Willing. Some scientists talk about “willpower” and suggest that it’s like a muscle we must learn to build. I’ve discovered something easier to adopt. It’s called “I am Willing.” To be willing is your power to transcend your thoughts, worries, and doubts. You can “Be Willing” to do something you don’t know how to do, don’t want to do, or are afraid to do. Therefore, a compelling way to adopt a new behavior is this:
Get a 3×5 inch card. Print the one or two Life’s Intentions that support your new behavior. In front of this, put “I am willing to be,“ and after the Life’s Intention write what you want to create. It could look like this:
“I am Willing to Be Spiritually Developing.”
“To do this, I meditate for 20 minutes every day for the next 30 days.”
It is so powerful to declare, “I am willing,” in front of any new resolution and look at that statement every day. This will get you in touch with your “True Power” rather than your “will power.”
Have a wonderful week!
PS and further notes: Please read below if you’d like a little more support regarding your New Year’s resolutions!
Every year, millions of adults resolve to “lose weight,” “be more productive,” or “get in shape” during the following year. Instead of selecting such an ambiguous goal, focus on something more concrete on which you can realistically set your sights. In other words, choose a particular, achievable goal.
Small Steps Lead to Success
- For example, you might commit to losing 10 pounds, making daily to-do lists, or running a half-marathon. Be sure to make your goal realistic rather than drastic. Choosing an achievable goal also allows you to plan precisely how to accomplish (and stick to) your goal for the year.
- If you have resolved to run a marathon, start by going for a jog two or three times a week. Slowly, work up to longer runs and exercise more days per week.
- If you are trying to eat healthier, start by replacing a few less healthy foods with more nutritious options. Then, tackle another element of your diet, such as adding in a greater variety of vegetables, reducing portion size, and cutting back on fried food or eating out.
“Small changes can add up to a healthier new year.”
— Dr. Niihdi Kumamoto