Have you vowed that this will be the year you lose weight, eat healthier, make better financial decisions, quit smoking or simply delve into self-improvements? And if you made such a New Year’s resolution, have you stuck to it now that we’re more than a week into 2018?
According to the Statistics Brain Research Institute, about 58 percent of Americans make these resolutions with only 9.2 percent of people saying they were successful in achieving their resolution at the end of the year. Many of us fall off the bandwagon within the first week.
Why do we fail to maintain our resolutions throughout the year? The answer is quite simple. Immediate results are paramount to us, and their value is far more important than future fulfillments.
Studies have constantly connected the art of self-control to success in weight loss, managing personal finances and overall self-improvement. We are well aware that inducing constraint when faced with temptation and suppressing our urgency for immediate results will lead to exertion of our willpower and ultimately reaching our resolutions. Yet we still submit to our impulses of binge eating or shopping.
Why? Because we are nearsighted in our vision of self-control. We need to bear witness that self-control is not a barrier to obtaining momentary pleasures, but rather a way for us to create gains and increased worth for our future. We imagine self-control to be like a resistance band, holding us back from that doughnut, holding us back from purchasing that expensive car and finally holding us back from happiness. We see it as a burden inevitably making us miserable. Although we may be able to first resist the urge, our willpower slowly fades, and before we know it, our resolution is long forgotten.
To add to this, we constantly face emotional situations leading to stress. We feel stressed at work and use smoking as an outlet. We lose a family member and decide to get away and splurge on a vacation. We give up on self-control and will power since it makes you miserable, and death is eventually inevitable right?
Stress seems to be a major player in affecting willpower and decision-making. Researchers from the University of Zurich did a study where they decided to have people pick between foods while stressing them out. The results were that people under stress chose the unhealthy item, while people with no stress picked the healthier item.
Part of this experiment involved observing brain activity of the participants. Scientists noted alternating spikes in connectivity in various areas of the brain and also noticed that the stress hormone -- cortisol -- was partially responsible for the reduction in this connectivity. With reduction in brain communication, also came reduced willpower.
In the most recent Stress in America survey, 57 percent of respondents reported losing weight as a goal for the new year, and 50 percent opted to eat a healthier diet. The survey further showed that less than 1 in 5 adults reported being successful at making health-related improvements.
There is a continuous battle with people struggling to have enough willpower. The American Psychological Association defines willpower as “the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.” Achieving your resolutions through healthy behaviors and resisting temptations can be stressful. However, strengthening your willpower can help to achieve your goals.
The APA advises these techniques to help you strengthen your willpower:
Focus on a single, clearly defined goal instead of a list of goals. Succeeding at the first goal will strengthen your willpower and improve your ability to succeed in the next.
Monitor your behavior toward your goal by keeping consistent track of your progress and developing a feasible action plan.
Build positive relationships and surround yourself with people you trust and who will be supportive of your goals.
As 2018 begins, take the time to reflect on your emotional well-being before delving into your new goals. Be grateful and reflect on what you have now instead of what you want. Be patient with yourself, and be proud of all your achievements no matter how tiny they are. Achieving your goals is not a race or competition, it is a step toward the best you that you can be. Make this 2018 a celebration of you.
By Angela Silveira
Angela Silveira is a physician and public health specialist from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)