At the beginning of 2022, 26-year-old Pranay Sharma, a computer engineer from Kolkata took to running as his new year resolution. He hoped to shrink his waist to fit into his favourite jeans.
He completed a three-kilometre run on the first day, causing severe muscle cramps for the next few days. After recovery, he ran the same distance, but the day after he did not turn up due to cramps. This cycle continued for a few more days after which he dropped the idea of continuing with his resolution altogether. Stories of resolutions biting the dust are common, whether for fitness or intellectual goals.
The beginning of a new year also ushers in the opportunity for change, and plans are set and pursued with renewed gusto. However, as days turn to months, the zeal fizzles out.
The concept of New Year resolutions dates back thousands of years to 2000 BC when the ancient Babylonians started out their year in March. Roman emperor Julius Caesar moved the New Year to 1 January in 46 BC and made promises of good conduct for the year to come.
While there has been a steady rise in the number of people keeping their resolutions—a 2002 study found that 46 per cent of goal setters achieved their resolutions, and a 2020 study showed that 55 per cent did—most of us still struggle to keep ours.
How to accomplish New Year resolutions
This brings us to the question: how do we stick to our goals and accomplish them?
Patna-based Mahesh Karmakar (28), a construction contractor in the Railways, who shared Sharma’s goal of fitting into his jeans joined a gym with a personal trainer.
“I started slowly, ran 500m on my first day, and lifted 5kg, which felt four times its weight at first,” he says. “Now, I run 5km daily and do a 25kg dumbbell bench press.” The key he said is to start slowly and be consistent.
The American Psychological Association also suggests that focusing on just one behaviour at a time is more likely to lead to long-term success for individuals who make a New Year resolution.
Kirthi R, a trainer and owner of the Evolution Fitness centre, Bengaluru, and Delhi-based lifestyle coach Ridhima Sehgal suggest tips to increase the chances of being on track and accomplishing one’s goals.
Set SMART goals: One of the biggest mistakes people make is setting goals that are too general. Choose a Specific goal that is Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
“Instead of setting a goal to lose 10kg in months, decide to run every day, eat two to three bowls of vegetables and fruits, and run an extra 15 minutes for every pizza slice consumed,” suggests Kirthi.
Make a timetable and have patience: Set a time or date goal to accomplish the set resolution. Goals like losing 5kg in a week can lead to failure.
“Remember that the habits you are trying to change took years to develop. So, do not expect miracles in a few months,” says Sehgal. “Be patient and understand that resolutions are a process; if you are derailed, resume as soon as possible. Remember, it is not a race, but a commitment to your better self.”
Be realistic and focused: A 2020 study published in PLOS ONE showed that people who set an approach-oriented goal are 58 per cent likely to accomplishment it, while those who choose avoidance-oriented goals have a 47 per cent chance.
Sehgal shares examples of approach and avoidance-oriented goals
- Instead of avoiding sweets completely, satiate your sweet tooth occasionally with jaggery or honey.
- Rather than walking 10,000 steps a day in one go (which can be challenging for many), divide this into three or four parts.
- Instead of finding time to do mindfulness training during a busy schedule, try to laugh often with colleagues (which has the same effect of mindfulness).
- Set a goal to reduce drinking, which may limit socialising with friends. Instead, find enjoyable activities to do together, increasing the likelihood of socialising without alcohol.
Track your progress: Goal tracking can help one stay on track. If one’s goal is to save money, tracking one’s expenditure can give an insight into where and when to cut back. For instance, if one usually buys clothes every month, one should try shopping every other month instead.
Kirthi adds that if one’s desired fat loss has not been reached, examining sleep, diet and protein intake can reveal what needs changing.
Stay accountable: Having a friend, group, partner, or professional to check in and discuss progress or challenges can help one stay positive and focused.
Joining a group with a shared goal like weight loss, can help in achieving one’s New Year resolution, according to Dr Sanford Garfield, who leads a study on diabetes prevention at the US’s National Institute of Health. The study found that participants who lost weight through diet and exercise had a lower risk of developing diabetes. Group counselling, including diet and exercise recommendations and behaviour modification, contributed to participants’ success. Dr Garfield noted that group support is an effective way to reach goals through mutual encouragement and learning.
Aparajit Sandhu, a counselling psychologist from Chandigarh shares dos and don’ts to get one’s New Year resolutions going
- Instead of asking ‘can I do it?’ Say ‘let’s start’. Do not fear the outcome, which is not in one’s control.
- Remember, the slow and steady always wins the race.
- Perseverance is the key. Sustainable change happens by changing oneself daily. Do not bite more than one can chew.
- It is fine to miss your resolution habit occasionally. Resuming it soon is important.
- Co-opt friends and parents. They will prompt us if we lose focus on our goals.
- Our loved ones can push themselves. Sometimes, they just need a gentle nudge. Motivate them.