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New Year's Resolutions: 5 Strategies Science Says Really Work


What Science Has Learned About Willpower and Self-Control

Perhaps your resolve for 2014 is to quit smoking, improve your diet, drink less alcohol, become more physically active, or to break some other bad habit. However, we all know sticking to a New Year’s resolution can be hard. After all, temptations are everywhere, and bad habits can be difficult to shake.

I almost think of bad habits as something needing to be healed like a pesky wound, or something to be nurtured and encouraged to move on. After all, if you think about it, if a person becomes dependent on their bad habits, they establish a relationship with them, and it can be hard to say goodbye to that which is known so well.

Plus, everyday life is full of self-control demands, and these daily demands can drain ones willpower. Keep in mind it's most challenging to resist temptations when you're tired or stressed. Researchers have determined self-control is highest in the morning hours, and steadily declines and deteriorates over the course of the day. When trying to change you can't relay on willpower alone. If you do, you run the risk of feeling burnt out.

Luckily, scientist are discovering which strategies are effective at boosting willpower, and WILL put an end to bad habits. The best part is, these strategies consist of instituting minor, doable tweaks to your usual behavior.

Five Strategies That Work For Breaking Bad Habits:

Choose the Right Words 
It's more empowering to say, “I don’t,” rather than, “I can’t,” when trying to resist temptation and stick to your planned course of behavior, according to the latest recent research. For example, if you are trying to eat healthy and someone offers you a chocolate chip cookie, you'd say, “I don’t eat sweets,” rather than, “I can’t eat sweets.”

This is effective because the phrase, “I can’t,” signals a sense of loss from having to give up something you want – whether it’s ice cream after dinner or sleeping an extra half an hour in the morning, rather than getting up to work out.

By contrast, saying, “I don't” is self-empowering and elicits determination, thus making any refusal strategy more effective. Researches say using the words "I don't,"  increased peoples' feelings of control, which then resulted in a positive behavioral change, more than saying “I can't,” or using the generic, “just-say-no” strategy.

Keep Other People’s Reactions in Mind
When considering a particular choice for yourself you're trying to change - that bad habit you want kiss goodbye – researches suggest you consider the opinions of people you value - what would they think of your choice? Would they be proud of you or would they disapprove?

Using this 'social element' can provide a powerful boost to ones self-control. Bringing a role model to mind is also an effective tool when you need a little boost to your willpower by asking yourself what that role model would do.

For some people, envisioning what their mother or father would think about their loss of willpower is an effective way to stay on track.

Engage in Mini Workouts 
Recent research has also found short bouts of exercise improved self-control. The theory: Brief bouts of exercise may boost blood flow to the pre-frontal areas of the brain, which are responsible for executive functions, such as planning and controlling inhibitions.

For people trying to quit smoking for example, going for a short, brisk walk when a craving for a cigarette ensues, helps to alleviate the craving and break the habit cycle. It's turning your attention away from your craving and toward an activity, thus helping to reprogram the brain, and enjoy a healthier pursuit.

Commit to a Small, Consistent Act of Self-Control 
Sticking with a single behavior requiring self-control can improve overall willpower. Simply foregoing dessert after dinner for example, helps to improve the overall willpower in other areas of a person's life, like taking good care of our health, resisting temptation, and feeling more in control of our emotions.

Implementing this single behavior self-control becomes a form of training, which will naturally boost confidence, and help a person to improve all areas of their lives. Such as when a person starts to lose weight and they begin to feel healthier, they are rewarded with an improved self image, positive feedback and support from others, increased energy, improved sleep, etc. which furthers motivates change, and strengthens self-control and willpower.

Practice Mindfulness Meditation 
Mindful meditation, or shamatha, is a form of meditation involving developing a conscious awareness and acceptance of living in the 'now' – assisted by focusing on breathing, posture, and gaze – while letting your mind roam free. It's taking your mind to a place of calm and harmony.

This activity is relaxing, but has also shown, according to a recent study at the University of Basel in Switzerland, to counteract the effects of focusing on maintaining self-control, which can lead to a depletion of self-control by feeling worn out from maintaining the effort to change.

In other words, mindfulness meditation can replenish your self-control after it’s been drained. Mindfulness meditation is  not difficult to do, requires no special equipment, and is best performed in a place that is void of too much noise or distraction. If you'd like to learn more about this form of meditation, there are many websites offering online guides. This is one I personally like: How To Do Mindfulness Meditation.

Implementing these research-proven strategies should help to empower anyone looking to break and change a bad habit for good, or to gain more self-control. These tools can bring success, and move any New Year's resolutions to the completed list.

You may also enjoy our post: What's in Your Goal Setting Tool Box? 


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