New year, new you: Make it harder to fail your resolutions

During the holiday season, many look forward to celebrations with friends and family, food, sleep and entertainment. With the anticipation also comes a renewed sense of optimism about the coming year. We want to be fitter, healthier, smarter and more motivated. However, according to a December 2015 article published in the U.S. News and World Report, 80 percent of people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by February. And only 8 percent achieve their goals. What happens to our motivation during the month of January? How do those 8 percent keep the motivation and optimism to reach those goals? We can look to research on human behavior to provide some insight.

During an undergraduate health behavior change course, my professor encouraged us to brainstorm ways to help the public make healthier choices. We discussed education, tax breaks and phone apps that provide reminders to take medication or to exercise. The professor then presented examples of how those ideas had been implemented by public health officials all over the world. After sharing these, he emphasized that changing people’s environment was the most effective way to change people’s behavior.

A 2015 review by Sallis et al. published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity show how just living near parks can lead to healthier lifestyles. People who lived in residential areas without parks or recreational spaces had a 44 percent higher rate of physician-diagnosed anxiety disorders than those who lived near more parks and recreational areas.

Also, a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Heath Promotion by Huston et al. showed that people who lived near trails are 50 percent more likely to get enough physical activity to help them stay healthy, and people living in walkable neighborhoods are twice as likely to get enough physical activity as people who don’t. Changing the public’s environment makes it easier to choose healthy behaviors, thus improving public health.

When applying this approach at the personal level, the same principles hold true. Consider manipulating your environment for success. For example, if you’ve been wanting to develop a habit of journaling before bed, try placing your journal on your pillow. Before getting in bed, you must physically move the journal. If you’ve already put in effort to pick it up and move it, writing something shouldn’t take much more effort. Now, what if you know you’ll forget to put the journal back on your pillow in the morning? After you write in your journal, try placing it in your bathroom sink. In the morning, you’ll have to move back the journal back onto your pillow to use your sink.

But what about more intangible goals such as time management? A 2012 study published by Lydia Burak in the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning demonstrated that the millennial generation struggles with constant distraction from technology during classIf social media and technology restrict your ability to manage time wisely, consider altering your environment to eliminate the distractions of technology. Leave your phone in a locker (or even at home!) during class. Apps such as Freedom, Self-Control, StayFocusd and LeechBlock allow you to block certain websites to help train your mind to not check Facebook or Instagram during class.

Unless you have the self-mastery of a monk, relying solely on motivation and discipline to reach your goals can leave you giving up on your New Year’s resolutions by February, alongside a nice serving of disappointment and guilt. By manipulating your environment and making it harder to fail, success just may come more easily.

~ Austin Tyler, District 9 Trustee, Colorado ’20

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About Austin Tyler

Austin is in his third year at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. He looks forward to a career in the U.S. Air Force and plans to specialize in prosthodontics. He believes that organized dentistry is the key to advancing the rights and interests of both students and dentists. Austin currently serves as the Colorado ASDA chapter president and represents district 9 as a member of the ASDA Board of Trustees.

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