Lifestyle

5 Ways To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Based New Research

If you’re like many people, you’ve made your New Year’s resolutions—work-related and otherwise—and you’re loaded with optimism and good intentions for the new year. But you also know New Year’s resolutions can be tough to maintain. There are plenty of the usual recommendations, but if those were optimal, there wouldn’t be so many broken resolutions. New science may help you keep your commitments more effectively—finally!

Managing your choices and maintaining your resolutions is based on a combination of personal discipline, will power, perseverance and self-control. While these are elements of personality, they are also traits you can hone, expand and develop. And a little knowledge will go a long way toward developing them.

Keeping Resolutions: Tried and True Methods

Interestingly, according to a study by the University of York self-control arose as an important human characteristic along with the emergence of tools. With tools came the need to invest time and energy in something for the future. People carved the tree trunk into a canoe for a future float on the stream or they felled the patch of forest for a future home.

Researchers found it was necessary to have self-control, but also deliberate action, planning, the ability to prioritize and also some tolerance for the discomfort that could come from the effort (carving the tree could be hard work but worth it, when weighed against the value of the canoe).

In addition to these elements of discipline, you’ve also heard the standard, tried-and-true suggestions for expressing your will over your intentions:

  • Keep the big picture in mind—motivating yourself for everyday tasks based on your longer-term vision.
  • Link the new habit you want to build with a new habit. If you want to update your timesheet regularly, do it at the same time you’re already checking your morning emails.
  • Do a little bit every day. Take an incremental approach and keep motivation by keeping momentum.
  • Track your progress. Any kind of tracking works from an app to a paper calendar (think: stickers). These provide slightly more tangible evidence of your ongoing success.
  • Reward yourself. Always a good idea, as long as your reward doesn’t undermine your goal.

Keeping Resolutions: New Approaches

In addition to the usual ways to keep your resolutions, you will also want to try these new approaches based on science:

#1 – Reduce Stress

Your own state of mind is an important part of sticking with your commitments. A study at Providence College found when people felt stressed, off balance or out of sorts, it was helpful to de-stress and re-establish cognitive control. In the study, they did this by viewing images of city life or enjoying nature—and then they were able to exert greater self-control. In addition, a study at the University of Zurich found stress created barriers to self-discipline—causing people to compromise on their intentions because they felt emotional, tense or anxious.

If your goal is to be more thorough in your work, manage your anxiety before you dig into the deep-dive research for the project. Get centered and be present and mindful as you’re seeking to keep your commitments. Take a walk, breathe deeply, share time with a supportive friend or listen to familiar music—whatever works for you to find calm and control. When you’re able to de-stress, you can manage your behavior better.

#2 – Talk To Yourself

Researchers at the University of Toronto found using your inner voice is tremendously helpful to exerting self-control. In their study, when people’s self-talk was muted, limited or truncated, they were less able to manage their own behavior.

Use self-talk to remind yourself about your “why” for your resolution and encourage your own motivation and capabilities. If your resolution is to grow a stronger network at work, setting up coffee or regular one-on-ones, use self-talk to remind yourself about your bigger-picture goal of learning from others. Reassure yourself about your confidence and capabilities in building relationships and new bonds. Use encouraging inner chatter to contribute to your own success with your resolutions.

#3 – Exercise

Keeping your commitments and persevering in the face of discomfort require engagement from the part of your brain which expresses executive function. Interesting studies by VU University Amsterdam found exercise, even in short bouts, can boost blood flow to the frontal lobe which controls this executive function and higher-level cognitive processing.

Sometimes, exercise is its own New Year’s resolution, but by exercising more frequently you’ll also be better able to keep all your other New Year’s resolutions. Work out in the morning, or take advantage of the company gym if you’re in the office. Exercise enhances happiness, but it can also expand your abilities to get things done, follow through and express your will to keep that New Year’s resolution.

#4 – Partner Up

You’ve heard the advice to tell someone else about your commitment in order to have them support you and also hold you accountable for achieving it, but new research suggests another layer on this advice. According to research from the University of Georgia, self-control is contagious. The people you are with influence your ability to demonstrate will power—or not.

Team up with a colleague who also wants to learn a new skill at work and take online classes together. In addition, be selective about who you spend time with. If you want to drink less at company gatherings, stick close with people who are good at expressing their own control and their choices will influence yours.

#5 – Express Empathy

Empathy is also a strong motivator for shifting your behavior. A separate study at the University of Zurich found when people put themselves in others’ shoes or imagined their effects on others, they were more capable of demonstrating self-control.

If your goal is to procrastinate less, consider your coworker and imagine how your on-time completion of the work will help ensure they don’t have to toil over the weekend. Or imagine the happy customer who is able to make a strong business case for your product because your report was so brilliant. Considering your impact on others motivates your own choices.

In Sum

If you have a method which works to maintain your commitments, stick with it. Also consider new approaches which may make you even stronger and more rigorous in the choices you’ll make. Stick with your goals and you’ll certainly see a payoff in your improvement, growth and career development.

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