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I resolve not to resolve

A new year is often a time for resolutions. Many of us want to drop a dress size, learn a new skill, quit smoking, or move abroad.

My resolution this year is simply not to have one. Instead, I’m opting to try to form more healthy habits – that might take some trial and error.

The pressure of a resolution seems too tough for many of us, if it’s not achieved in exactly the way we set out, possibly half-cut while chatting to a mate half an hour before midnight, then it’s automatically failed.

The point of a resolution is to make a change, and frequently people make them at their most vulnerable … days after eating one too many servings of pavlova at Christmas.

In the span of a week, we westerners are thrust from days of gluttony to repenting our end-of-year sins.

There’s a solution to failing resolutions year after year, don’t make them. Instead, form a habit.

As an example, in the past few months, I have formed the habit of going for a walk every lunchtime and always exercising after work.

I don’t have a goal, and there is nothing to fail at; I simply go outside and smell the roses because it’s my routine.

It’s like putting socks on before shoes, second nature.

The thing with resolutions and goals is that they give stakes, but also a lot to fail at – and once you fail, it’s all too easy to throw in the can.

However, I don’t think this strategy would work for everything. If you want to quit smoking, a habit that is heavily connected to your brain’s reward system, that’s going to take more persistence than forming a different habit.

In general, it seems that doing something because you want to do it is easier to maintain than a resolution. You don’t need to wait until 12am on January 1 to do something new, you can do it now.

You’ve likely had enough of me sounding like an obnoxious life coach, so here’s some science behind habits.

According to experts, people fail at their resolutions because they are practising “self-directed neuroplasticity”.

Self-directed neuroplasticity is when you intentionally rewire your brain to create positive habits.

The concept was first defined by researcher Jeffrey Schwartz and then further pushed by Rick Hanson, a psychologist and senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of “Hardwiring Happiness.”

Self-directed neuroplasticity is different from experience-dependent neuroplasticity, a passive process in which we reinforce habits by doing them unconsciously over and over again, whether they’re good or bad.

The system is split into four steps: cue, craving, reward, and response.

Using my example, the cue would be looking at the clock and seeing it’s 1pm. The craving would be a desire for an outcome – I want some fresh air. The response would be to leave the room to go for the walk. The reward would be the feeling of breathing in fresh air.

It sounds easy, and it can be.

Next year, try to hardwire your brain to do what you want rather than setting a goal that may never be reached.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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