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Thankfully, the New Year offers a symbolic clean slate, with 365 days ahead to make your dreams for a healthier you come true — whether you hope to exercise more, eat superfoods at every meal, connect with old friends, or (hint, hint) never forget to floss. This year, taking care of yourself during the pandemic is more important than ever.
Unfortunately, about 80% of people abandon their resolutions by February.
What gives? Many experts in human behavior believe it’s a combination of making the wrong resolutions, trying to do too much at once, and giving up too quickly — after all, failure is an essential part of long-term success.
Here are 10 science-backed suggestions to help you use your New Year’s resolutions as tools to build your most beautiful life. (And hey, if you’d like to remember to floss every day for a healthier, happier smile, we’ve got a special tool or that, too! Sign up for our 21-Day Floss Challenge!)
The number one key to staying true to your goals is to make the right goals in the first place. According to the New York Times, resolutions work best when they are SMART, which is an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981 for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Though its origins may be a bit too Dwight Schrute, SMART can help you to put your well-meaning wishes to work. Here’s how:
🌟 Specific: Hone in on exactly what you want to achieve. For example, not just “exercise more,” but “exercise for 30 minutes five times a week.”
🌟 Achievable: If you’ve never jogged in your life, expecting to run a marathon next month may just set you up for an emotional eating date with Krispy Kreme. Instead, try running for just two minutes a day, then gradually move up, as suggested by author James Clear in his book Atomic Habits. He says, “It’s far better to do less than you hoped than to do nothing at all.”
🌟 Relevant: The goal needs to be driven by your own needs and desires, not societal pressure. That grain-free, paleo, vegan diet might not be right for you.
🌟 Time-bound: Create a timeline with clear, reasonable deadlines for your progress on the way to a larger goal. Take pride in every step. As Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, told the New York Times, “Focus on these small wins so you can make gradual progress.”
James Clear suggests mastering “the art of showing up.” If you want to workout, take the first step of just getting yourself to the gym. To meditate, sit down for only two minutes. To eat better, grab an apple. “What you want is a ‘gateway habit’ that naturally leads you down a more productive path,” says Clear. “You may not be able to automate the whole process, but you can make the first action mindless.” (So if you’d like to become a floss boss, how about automating your Cocofloss delivery?)
According to Charles Duhigg, the best way to keep yourself on track with your resolutions is to use the science of habit formation to your advantage. Here’s what Duhigg suggests: “First, choose a cue, like leaving your running shoes by the door, then pick a reward — say, a piece of chocolate when you get home from the gym. Eventually, when you see the shoes, your brain will start craving the reward, which will make it easier to work out day after day.”
Any resolution involving chocolate sounds like a good plan to us! In the long run, though, a 2016 study on what motivates people to exercise showed that the most effective rewards are intrinsic — meaning that they come from within yourself. So take note of what immediate personal benefits you get from your new habit, such as feeling less like the Grinch and more like the superstar you know you are. (Feel free to do a Molly Shannon “superstar” pose!)
On average, it takes 66 days for a new habit to become automatic — although for some people, it can take much of a year. Remember this if you feel frustrated about your resolutions by mid-February. (That’s also a good time to buy yourself a heart-shaped box of chocolates [see #3].)
That said, some simple healthy habits — like flossing! — can be created in as few as 21 days.
Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and author of The Willpower Instinct, told the New York Times that she recommends “displaying physical reminders of your goals — yes, that includes motivational Post-its.” (You can also put a floss reminder sticker on your bathroom mirror or a printable floss chart.)
Support your aspirations by priming your environment to make it easier to achieve them. Want to watch less TV? Put it out of sight. Want to eat more fruit? Put that bowl of bananas front and center. Want to treat your teeth to a nightly floss spa? Leave that bright box of Cocofloss out where you can see it!
Teaming together with your bestie to work on your resolutions is like adding an extra booster to your rocket, according to Paul B. Davidson, Ph.D., the director of behavioral services at the Center for Metabolic Health and Bariatric Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“If we could have made changes on our own, we would have done so, and so we turn to people to serve as our ‘booster’ to help us take off with a new habit,” Davidson told Shape. “... We must overcome the inertia of our old habits,” he said, “and that seems to work best when engaging others.”
Using pure willpower to stick to your goals is a recipe for stress, according to psychologist David DeSteno, the author of Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. “When people who are exceedingly focused and dedicated to using force of will to achieve their goals come up short, they report a hit to their well-being that is 120 percent greater than that reported by those who follow a less austere and stressful path,” DeSteno says.
Instead, focus on being thankful and kind. “Gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use,” says DeSteno. “When you are experiencing these emotions, self-control is no longer a battle, for they work not by squashing our desires for pleasure in the moment but by increasing how much we value the future.” Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to start.
“Early slips do not predict failure,” says John Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and author of the book Changeology. “In fact, many ultimately successful resolvers report — even as they experience them — that the early slips strengthen their resolutions,” Norcross told Time magazine.
The trick? Remember failure is a part of the process and correct your course by clarifying the benefits of your resolution, identifying your triggers, and connecting with social support.
“Celebration is one of the emotions that propel people further on the path of positive habits,” says Dr. Kelly McGonigal. It helps your brain make the connection that what you’re doing is good for you and you should keep doing it! So regularly cheer yourself on by sharing your successes with a friend or taking yourself out for a special treat. You deserve it!
Sign up for our 21-Day Floss Challenge! Join other reluctant flossers in turning an oft-skipped chore into a daily treat. Every day, we’ll send you a dose of FloMo (floss motivation) and tips for success. In just 21 days, you’ll have built a healthy habit for life!