Ask the Doctors: Positive Resolutions Much Easier to Keep | Health, medicine and fitness
Dear doctor: I saw on the news that there was a new study on How To Get A New Year’s Resolution Successful. My wife and I have the same list of resolutions every year, including quitting so much junk food and quitting sugar. And at this time every year we abandon them. We would like to know why it is difficult to go all the way.
Dear reader: It wouldn’t be like the start of a New Year if we didn’t hear readers talking about their love-hate relationship with Resolutions. On the one hand, the calendar gives you a clean slate. It comes after weeks of festivities in which excess has been a guiding principle. We have eaten and drunk our fill, and now we find ourselves not only ready, but even impatient, for a reset. On the flip side, we’re still the same as we were before Thanksgiving marked the start of the annual food craving season. All the reasons we didn’t lose those 10 pounds last August, or quit our sugar habit in March, still hold true.
Research on the topic of New Year’s resolutions reveals that many of us fall surprisingly quickly. Analysis of the online activity of more than 31 million people suggests that by the end of January, many resolutions are already in the rearview mirror. More rigorous studies from the University of Scranton have followed the slow decline in resolution. After a week, the researchers found that 23% of study participants had already given up on their resolutions. After three months, half had quit. When the researchers followed up two years later, about 20% of participants said they were successful in keeping their resolutions.
In the study you’re talking about, published last December in the journal PLOS One, researchers looked at what separated people who succeeded in keeping their resolutions and those who did not. They have found that the way someone states their goal can make a difference. People whose goals were like “I will” had a higher success rate than those who approached their resolutions with “I won’t”. Specifically, 59% of the 1,066 study participants with proactive goals rated themselves as successful, while only 47% of those with avoidance-focused goals believed they were successful.
When it comes to your resolve to eat less processed snack foods and reduce your sugar intake, you can try to turn the tide. Instead of thinking in terms of what you are going to eliminate from your diet, try to make a specific decision about what to add. For example, you could start by resolving to eat fresh fruit with each meal. You can increase the stake by agreeing that before indulging in any type of snack, you must first eat something good for you, such as a fresh carrot. That way, even if you falter in your resolve and slip into old ways with a bar of chocolate or a bag of crisps, you’ve also kept your resolve. Change is difficult, and even small victories can help keep you on track.