Thursday 27 October 2016

10 simple ways to continue your new year resolutions

Published 26/01/2016 | 02:30

Success begins with taking on a small manageable goal.
Success begins with taking on a small manageable goal.

Falling off the wagon as January comes to a close? Shane Cochrane has some tips on maintaining your zeal into February and beyond.

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Whatever your goal, you're more likely to succeed if you frequently monitor your progress. Researchers at the University of Sheffield reviewed 138 studies into the effectiveness of goal monitoring in areas such as losing weight, changing diet, lowering blood pressure and quitting smoking. From these studies they found that the more frequently you monitor your progress the more likely you are to succeed in your chosen goal. Making a physical record of your progress and - if you're brave enough - making your progress public also boost your chances of success.


When it comes to self-control, it doesn't pay to dwell on the past. In a series of experiments led by Dr Hristina Nikolova at Boston College, it was discovered that when people are asked to recall past failures, they are more likely to make the same decisions in the present. Dr Nikolova believes that mood and memory combine to undermine us. "When we think about our failures - that puts us in a negative mood and research has shown that when people are in a negative mood state, they tend to indulge to make themselves feel better."


Researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina believe that sleep deprivation leads us to make poor decisions, that we'll choose to stay at home instead of going to the gym or get a takeaway instead of cooking when we're tired. Good sleep habits, however, can help provide the stable energy levels needed to make better decisions. "Many aspects of our daily lives can be affected by better-managed sleep and self-control capacity," said June Pilcher, a professor of psychology at the university. "Improved health and worker performance are two potential benefits, but societal issues such as addictions, excessive gambling and over spending could also be more controllable when sleep deficiencies aren't interfering with one's decision making."


A US study found that when a group of smokers looking to kick the habit supported each other through Twitter, their chances of success increased greatly. In fact, when the programme was first tested by the University of California, Irvine and Stanford University, 42pc of the test group quit smoking. When the programme was tweaked slightly and run again on a different group, 75pc managed to quit. Participants in the study were given nicotine patches and received two text messages a day prepared by trained counselors, but the support from others in the group seems to have been the significant factor. By sending and receiving supportive tweets, and tweeting about their own successes and difficulties, members of the group were more likely to stay smoke-free.


Sometimes you may have to take a step back before you can move forward. Some recent studies have found that many smokers have less activity in the regions of the brain associated with self-control. So, if you want to quit, you might have to start with the goal of improving your self-control. In a joint study by Texas Tech University and the University of Oregon, 60 smokers participated in a programme that included learning mindfulness meditation to aid self-control. After two weeks, most of the smokers believed they were still smoking the same number of cigarettes. However, according to carbon dioxide levels in their lungs, they had reduced their smoking habit by 60pc - albeit unconsciously.


According to Tricia M Leahy of the Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Centre, in Rhode Island, building self-control is like building a muscle. The more you 'exercise' it by doing all the things you should be doing, even though you don't feel like doing them, the more you'll increase and strengthen your self-control 'muscle.' But what about those of us who are struggling to get started? Michael Inzlich of the University of Toronto believes we should change the way we think about our goals. "The key is finding a way to want and like the goal you are chasing. Some people do this naturally - think of the person who loves to run, and jogs as a way to relax and take a break."


Have you set a goal that is too ambitious? According to Brian Tracy, author of Goals! How to Get Everything You Want - Faster Than you Ever Thought Possible, success begins with taking on a small reachable goal. Then, once you've achieved that goal, you take on another - and another. "By achieving small goals, one at a time, you build your self-confidence," he writes. "You develop forward momentum. You eventually reach the point where there is no goal that you cannot attain if you are clear about it and if you work at it long enough and hard enough. But you have to walk before you run when setting goals."


According to Emily Mailey, a professor of kinesiology at Kansas State University, to be successful in your goals, it's important to have internal motivation. "Think about your reasons for setting your goal," she said. "Internal motivators, such as wanting to feel better or have more energy, are the ones that are more sustainable because they align with more people's personal goals and values and don't make working out feel like a chore. If you are motivated by these internal motivators, then you can focus on these immediate positive benefits of exercise, rather than the long-term goal of losing weight. As an example, a study by Johns Hopkins University found that women who tried to lose weight because they felt pressured to do so by their doctor had very little success.


In the world of self-help, being specific about your goals is of the utmost importance. According to Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles, not only must a goal be specific, it must be measurable and have a deadline. To Canfield, wanting to lose weight is just a vague wish. However, stating that you will weigh your ideal weight of 10 stone by noon on 31 December 2016 is a viable goal. To increase your chances of success, Canfield also says you should write your goal on a piece of card and read it three times a day.


There are precious few goals that can be achieved without discipline. However, according to the late Jim Rohn, if you want to be successful you can't pick and choose when to be disciplined. Rohn, who was an author and motivational speaker, believed that you should be disciplined at all times and in all areas of your life. "If we don't make consistent discipline part of our daily lives, the results we seek will be sporadic and elusive," he wrote in Leading an Inspired Life. Of course, this makes him sound like a bit of a disciplinarian. However, Rohn believed that all the little disciplines soon added up - and they made the big ones easier to achieve.

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