I’m not sure what’s the bigger tradition at the start of a new year, making a bunch of resolutions or breaking them a few months (or weeks or days) later.
For some people this might be expected and okay, but other times, you might be wanting to make a change that’s important to you going forward.
If that’s the case, here are 4 psychological tricks you can try to help you stick to your resolutions this year.
4. Intentions, constructions, and bundles.
This basically means that people are more likely to follow through on an intension if they form that intention when they encounter a cue.
For example, instead of saying you’re going to exercise more, say that you’re going to take a long walk after you drop your kids off at school. When you encounter the cue of dropping off your kids, your brain connects it to “time to take a walk.”
One study backs up this trick, finding that women who formed food specific implementation intentions lost twice as much weight as dieting women who didn’t not add the cue.
3. Focus on abstract properties.
This one could help you in moments of temptation. Basically, if you focus on the delicious aspects of an ice cream sundae, you’ll want to eat it.
But if you associate that particular sundae with other ice ream treats and the properties they share, you’ll be able to have more self-control.
It flips a switch in your brain that changes you from asking “should I eat this ice cream” to “should I eat this unhealthy food.”
Construal level theory says that when we construe things in abstract terms it facilitates more rational thought. After all, we want to avoid bad patterns, not the one-off ice cream sundae, if we want to make real change.
Also related is what American psychiatrist, psychologist, and behavioral economist George Ainslie calls “bundling.”
When you bundle choices you don’t see the as individual episodes, but you include the current choice as part of an ongoing challenge.
2. Sustainable self-control.
There is some evidence that self-control is a limited resource, but there are also a few ways you can restore it once depleted.
One is positive affect, which boosts your mood. Exposure to nature and eating sweet foods can help restore self-control reserves, too.
According to this experiment, though, sugar replacements do not have the same effect as sugar.
1. Avoiding temptations.
The reason this is important is that people consistently overestimate human willpower. It also diminishes as you use it, and as a day goes on, which is why you’re more likely to give into temptations at night.
The bottom line is that you absolutely can’t trust Later You to make good choices.
Also helpful are making the choices to avoid certain aisles at the grocery store, or taking routes home that don’t go past your favorite takeaway spot or bakery.
Nothing hard is worth doing, but there are rewards waiting for those who can make the changes they want to see in their lives.
It will take planning, though, so take some time to focus on what you want – then go out and get it!