Punish bad habits to help New Year's resolutions stick

Given up on your resolution already? Get back on track with this surprising expert advice.
New Year's resolutions list Photo: Masterfile

With a new year often come fresh goals for improving our lives. Some of us may have resolved to get out of debt, lose weight, or adapt our lifestyles to make more room for quality time spent with family and friends this year. Figuring out what changes need to be made to achieve our hopes and dreams is the easy part, however. The real challenge lies in making those changes in the first place and then following through on them consistently.

What’s the secret to making your New Year’s resolution reality? Start by believing in the possibility of real change in your life, or so suggests an article on how people make lasting changes in Time magazine.

In the article, psychologist John Norcross, an expert on addictive behaviours, and the author of the book Changeology, offered his best advice on how people make real changes in their lives.

The first bit of encouraging news: New Year’s resolutions aren’t doomed to fail. In fact, Norcross tells Time’s Maia Szalavitz that nearly half of all New Year’s resolutions are effective.

You can set yourself up for success, says Norcross, by being smarter and more realistic about your goals. For example, rather than say ‘I’m going to lose 50 pounds this year,’ make 10 or 15 pounds a starting goal and work from there. Or if you simply want to improve your eating habits, do yourself a favour and adapt your home environment to make that more likely. Stop buying the foods you want to avoid and start packing a healthy lunch.

Norcross also advises people to be more realistic about the amount of time it takes to make a lifestyle change a habit, which can take several months. Persistence is the key to making a long term goal a reality, he says, and therefore you shouldn’t take every occasional lapse into old, unhealthy behaviours as a failure but rather as one more step in the process of change.


But that doesn’t mean you should let the violation go unpunished. Norcross says one way to stay motivated is to punish yourself by taking away one of your favourite rewards when you fall into bad habits again. For example, if you went ahead and spent lavishly on your Visa when you’ve made a goal to get out of debt, then punish yourself by taking away your favourite TV show for a week, or even returning or giving away one of those must-have purchases.


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