January is a month to make resolutions – you only have to look at the uptick in gym memberships and health food store purchases to find proof.
Of course, the punchline about resolutions usually comes in February or March … when practically everyone is back to their old practices.
Oklahoma City therapist Dr. Randall Touchatt believes there may be another reason for our love of the New Year’s resolution; the awareness that everyone expects resolutions to be broken may let us feel as if we’re off the hook when we don’t follow through.“As a social institution,” Touchatt says, “there really is no failure in a failed resolution, because there is no expectation other than to fail.”
So … what makes a resolution last?
The answer might be not making one in the first place.
It doesn’t sound as dramatic, but research shows that the steady, gradual development of new habits – and the breaking of bad ones – is usually key in making life changes. Neuroscientists have determined that habits – good and bad – have a few characteristics that, once understood, can give you the tools to make lasting changes.
Habits are triggered.
Practices we know are bad for us, but feel powerless to stop, are usually triggered by something. We smoke to calm our nerves, we overeat because we’re stressed, we leave messes because we’re overwhelmed; these are examples of triggered behaviors. Identifying the why behind a habit is the first step in breaking it. That can take time, and so can creating new triggers, for good habits.
Habits are persistent.
You did not start smoking a pack a day or get out of shape or disorganized overnight; don’t expect to undo it immediately.
Harnessing the power of the habit – identifying what triggers the bad and providing new triggers for the good, as well as dedicating yourself to small, persistent practices of the things you want to do – can help you institute good, healthy pursuits in your life gradually.
Another reason resolutions may not have the impact we expect is that more and more, evidence has shown that gratitude, positivity and appreciating the moment are keys in promoting healthy behavior. “Mindfulness” has become a buzzword in the past few years, but Touchatt believes that it’s a term we need to embrace, and that a simple return to childlike wonder at the world may help renew the gratitude we need to enjoy the life we have right now, instead of focusing on what we think it should look like.
“Mindfulness in the strictest sense of the term is a natural state of bliss,” Touchatt says. “Following that bliss is the only way to truly experience one’s life.
“We knew this as children. I believe the nature of being in the moment was educated out of us.”
A study conducted by Brown University last year demonstrated a correlation between practitioners of mindfulness and increased cardiovascular health – very possibly because of the link between mindfulness and the adoption of behaviors that are associated with lowered cardiovascular risks (not smoking, physical activity, etc.)
In plain English? Resolutions and discipline have their place, but being grateful and living in the moment may help you form and keep good habits. And getting happy may actually be a path to getting healthy, not the other way around.