Habits are hard to break and hard to start

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By Sarah Kinney
Staff Writer

While we were gone over winter break, about 45 percent of Americans made a new year’s resolution, according to research in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Only eight percent of people will be successful.

Common resolutions are to  lose weight, get organized, save money, live meaningfully, learn something new, quit smoking, and fall in love.

Often, resolutions are a way to correct a habit that a particular person believes to be detrimental or to start a new beneficial habit. I believe that resolutions are a great opportunity for self-assessment and a way to work towards being the person you want to be.

There are hundreds of theories on how to successfully change your habits and no consensus on the right way to do so, but I have some suggestions on what I have found in the last month of resolution making and keeping.

My first suggestion is to be precise and proactive about how you are going to change. A November Gallup Poll shows that 51 percent of adults in the U.S. would like to lose weight. That is vague though. How much weight would you like to lose? How do you plan to do so?

I recently switched jobs from something where I was very active to one where I sit at a desk. A typical resolution I might have chosen was to be more active. Instead, I told myself I have to take the stairs instead of the elevator. I also was not drinking enough water and  was dehydrated, which was causing me to have frequent headaches. I resolved to drink an additional 16 oz. of water each day.

My next suggestion is to set yourself up for success. For my drinking-more-water resolution, I knew one of the reasons I was not drinking enough was that I did not always have easy access to water. Therefore, I bought myself a water bottle and now I bring it with me everywhere: work, class, bed, etc. I make it so I have no excuse not to be drinking water.

It is an urban myth that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but repetition is important to habit-forming. Just last week I added another resolution to my list; I wanted to do more writing and have relationships that are more meaningful with friends I do not see very often. I decided I would write one letter every day to a different friend. Each night I write the letter, and then in the morning I address it and mail it. Every day. Including weekends. Eventually, conscious decisions to do something will be simply another thing you just do.

My letter resolution also has two more important aspects: reward and accountability. Each day before I mail the letter I post a picture on Facebook. I like posting things on Facebook so this is a bit of a reward for me. In addition, I am also excited at the idea that maybe someone will write me back.

Posting on Facebook also lets me feel like I have to be accountable to my audience. They will know if I miss a day. In this way, they become my team. When they like a picture, it is as if they are cheering me on.

Therefore, with a new year and new semester, I encourage you to resolve to be even more amazing than you already are. Whatever you decide to do be specific, set yourself up to succeed, be consistent, reward yourself, and have an accountability team.

I wish you the best in whatever you choose to do and I hope you can help increase the number of successful resolutions.