Posted on January 11, 2021 by Amanda Cerreto

This story and video originally appeared in Kens5 by Megan Ball. Dr. James Bray, professor of Psychology, is featured in both the video and article.

SAN ANTONIO — A new year is a great opportunity for a fresh start.

At least that's what most people think when the calendar changes from December 31 to January 1.

In years past, you may have noticed more people at your gym at the start of the year. Or maybe you've heard a friend telling you all about how they can't have a drink because they're participating in "Dry January."

Resolutions are really just a way for people to become the best versions of themselves.

James H. Bray, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at San Antonio and the former president of the American Psychological Association, explained that it's the start of a new year that inspires the start of a new journey.

"It's the beginning of a new period in your life and it's often the opportunity to make some changes.”

These changes often have to do with health and well-being, Bray said.

“Because of the holidays, people often overeat and may gain weight. And so people use this as an opportunity to kind of get back on track."

While research shows that somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the population makes New Year's resolutions, there are certain things that must be done to make sure that they're effective.

Strategy time

So, how do you make the new habits you've created for yourself in January last all the way to December?

1. Choose goals that are achievable and realistic, then write them down

It's important for your resolution to be something that is attainable within the time frame you hope to accomplish it, Bray said.

“For example, if you want to lose weight and you say, ‘Okay, I want to lose 50 pounds in a month,' that's pretty unrealistic. It's almost nearly impossible and it's probably not good for your health,” he said. “So you need to make a realistic resolution, and writing it down is very important.”

By writing down your goals down, Bray said that you’re more likely to accomplish them than people who don't write them down.

2. Track your progress

After you have your goals written down, it's important to track your progress.

“If you have a particular goal, like you want to work out a certain number of times per week, you want to write it down so that you can actually see your progress,” he said. “Just keeping it in your head is not as effective.”

By writing down your goals and tracking your progress, you're able to re-evaluate your goals, and if you're not hitting them, then you can figure out what changes need to be made so that they can be attained.

Bray spoke of a time when he set a resolution to lose weight. He started participating in high-intensity workouts and lost some weight, but eventually hit a plateau. After talking to someone, Bray realized he needed to change up his eating habits.

“So, I had to reevaluate, well, ‘how am I trying to achieve my goals?' So, how I was trying to achieve my goal wasn't working as effectively as I wanted it to. And so that's when you have to picot and look for other ways in which you can achieve your goal.”

3. Build in social support and find an accountability buddy

Bray said that building in social support and accountability measures will help you stay on track to achieve your goals.

Whether you choose a family member, a friend, or someone else with a similar goal, an accountability buddy is someone with whom you'll check in regularly and ensure that you're making progress.

“For example, many times when you say, ‘Well, I want to start exercising more regularly,' when you don't feel like it, your accountability buddy is there to say, ‘well, just because you don't feel like it doesn't mean that you're not going to do it, so go ahead and do it anyway.' And so having that is very important.”

Keeping resolutions during a pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Bray pointed out that there may be some additional difficulties when it comes to keeping your resolutions.

“In some cases, like for exercise, if people go to a gym or [take] group classes, it's not as safe to do that because of COVID-19,” he said. “And so, many gyms have closed down or, you know, people don't feel comfortable going to them because of health reasons and many group classes have been eliminated.”

“For so many people, they use that to achieve their goals and some of that's just not as available to you.”

However, Bray said that there are alternatives that will work if you're truly committed to achieving your goals. Some workarounds include virtual exercise classes or virtual meetings, “and for many people, that works just as effectively as being there in person.”

28 to 30 days

In setting resolutions, you are striving to become the best version of yourself. To become the best version of yourself, it is necessary to develop new habits, which requires discipline and consistency.

When creating a new habit, Bray said it's important to remember that “it takes 28 to 30 days to create a new habit and then six to 12 months to make it permanent in your life. So, that first 30 days, you have to really focus on the behavior change.”

Mindfulness and making a new habit part of your normal, everyday routine will be key in terms of long-term success.

And if you fall off the wagon, Bray said it's important not to give up on your resolutions. Just reset and get back on course.

So, to recap:

  • Choose achievable, realistic goals and write them down
  • Track your progress
  • Build-in social support and find an accountability buddy
  • “Where there's a will, there's a way!” Find alternative ways to accomplish your goals. If there's an obstacle standing in the way of you and your goals, look for workarounds.
  • Be mindful, disciplined, and patient with yourself. Habits take 28 to 30 days to take and then six to 12 months to become permanent.

And while most of the examples and advice gave involved exercise, Bray explained that the above strategies can be applied to any resolution.

“I did focus mostly on health issues, but this is often a time when people make a recommitment to their family and their relationships. So they may make a commitment to be kinder or more appreciative of their family and other relationships, which can also help them achieve other kinds of goals.”

There you have it! Now you can make sure that the resolutions you set in January can be counted as accomplished goals next December!

— Amanda Cerreto