What are your big plans for 2022?

Do you want to read a book every week? Get healthier and stick to a regular exercise routine? Maybe you want an entirely new career, or you’re hoping to find love take a shot at a serious relationship.

Whatever your hopes, the new year provides an opportunity for change. A blank canvas on which we can paint a more perfect version of ourselves. But how often do these pledges and vows actually stick?

Most people make some form of new year’s resolution, but UAB Medicine estimates that less than 8% of people actually stick to them. 

So, where are we going wrong? Is it that our demands of ourselves are just too big? We are expecting too much, too quickly, and when that doesn’t happen – we feel demoralised and give up?

Maybe the answer is to start thinking smaller.

Dr Katie Tryon, a behaviour change expert at Vitality, suggests that ‘micro-resolutions’ might hold the key to changing your behaviour in the long-term, so you can finally fulfil your new-year-new-me goals.

Dr Katie explains why so many people struggle to stick to their resolutions and what to do about it:

Unpack the problem

‘There are so many reasons why people find it difficult to stick to new year’s resolutions, many of which are found in behavioural science,’ says Dr Katie.

‘For starters, many of us are overconfident and overestimate our ability to achieve resolutions, without anticipating the challenges we may face, causing us to give up altogether.’

Secondly, she says we can all be be poor planners, which means we don’t realise the time, money, and effort it takes to achieve the resolution.

‘This can lead us to let the resolution slide when life takes over,’ Dr Katie adds. ‘Thirdly, there’s a behavioural science concept called “hyperbolic discounting”, where we choose smaller, immediate rewards, over larger more distant ones.

‘As a result, the reward of not making the effort (to skip that run), can outweigh the reward of making that effort (staying in shape), unless incentives are applied to balance this.’

The sticking point

‘Recent research tells us that “micro-resolutions” are more likely to make resolutions stick because of a behavioural shift in mentality,’ she says. This meand we’re more inclined to stick to them because it’s easier to estimate the effort required to achieve them, and to plan them into our day-to-day life.

‘Another key to micro-resolutions is to reward ourselves earlier for making a change,’ says Dr Katie. ‘If the reward for making a change is far in the future (like health improvement), it is important to set up a structure of incentives to stay motivated along the way.

‘These incentives could include treating yourself to a bubble bath or buying yourself that expensive candle you’ve wanted if you’re successful in sticking to your micro-resolutions for three days in a row.’

Pick your moment

The new year provides the perfect opportunity to set micro-resolutions for a number of reasons.

‘Firstly, you may have holiday from work and a chance to spend time with friends and family, and along with this, time to reflect on what those resolutions should be,’ explains Dr Katie.

‘Secondly, you will always remember the start date so can measure progress. But, of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to the new year – micro-resolutions can be set at any time.

‘The most important thing is that they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound.’

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Dr Katie says we all need to have more patience with ourselves.

‘Small and consistent short-term changes are habit forming, which is the key to long-term change,’ she says.

‘We’re all creatures of habit, and once we’ve made a change, we’re more likely to stick to it. Equally, micro-resolutions can accumulate to have significant impact.

‘Rome was not built in a day. Slowly building up small changes, and rewarding yourself along the way, can help you achieve the level of activity you desire. Trying to go from nothing to Olympian levels of physical activity is impossible, form the right habits first.’

How to set fitness micro-resolutions

Jonny Kibble, head of exercise and physical activity at Vitality has provided practical tips to help you implement Dr Katie’s advice and set our own micro-resolutions:

The start line

‘Anything that gets you moving more or elevates your heart rate is a definite win,’ says Jonny.

‘Depending on your goals, micro-resolutions such as hitting your 5,000 steps a day, stretching for five minutes each morning, getting off one tube stop early twice a week, stopping meetings at 25 or 55 minutes long and walking for five minutes before the next meeting, or even finding just one five-minute slot every other day to exercise, are all great starting points.’

Motivation comes and goes

‘An all-or-nothing mindset can really hold us back when it comes to maintaining our activity and exercise goals,’ says Jonny.

He says this usually happens because people set goals that are far too ambitious from the outset.

‘They may be fine while motivation is high, but once it inevitably and naturally drops, we struggle to keep it up,’ he says. ‘Setting micro-resolutions or smaller goals enables us to build momentum.

‘It’s much easier to fail on your “hitting the gym five times a week” resolution, than “walk 1,000 more steps each day” resolution. You will be a lot better at bouncing back from a day where you skip a resolution when it’s smaller and easier to achieve.

‘Motivation is great, but the reality of life is that it does come and go.’

Jonny says you should pick resolutions that require minimal motivation, at least to start with, until you build up your confidence and momentum.

‘To put it in perspective, 365 days of hitting an extra 1,000 steps per day is much more effective for helping you stay more active than 1 month of hitting the gym five days per week, struggling, and then stopping for the rest of the year,’ he says.

Keep it fun

As with anything that we want to make a habit, enjoyment is key.

‘There are many whacky micro-resolutions that people can practice to add some movement and fun into their routines,’ says Jonny.

‘Stretching while brushing your teeth, seeing how many press ups (or knee press ups) you can do before the microwave pings, doing two pull ups (if you have a bar) every time you go through a doorway, sitting on the floor for an episode of whatever TV show you’re hooked on in the evening to promote mobility, or even doing five burpees each morning for every press of the snooze button.

#All weird and whacky ways of integrating micro-resolutions into your life.’

Tech support

‘One key fundamental of habit-building, aside from them being small and manageable in the beginning, is that we are prompted to carry them out,’ says Jonny.

‘If you’re reminded to carry out your micro-resolution, this can be a good way of keeping yourself accountable, even if your motivation slips.

‘Activity trackers can be great for this, so setting a reminder for you to stand and move each hour, setting a step goal, or even using your device to track progress are all great ideas to build motivation.’ 

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