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Unleash Willpower You Never Thought You Had

A New Year signals a fresh start, and with that comes the dreaded practice of New Year Resolutions. Pressure to 'be in control' of every aspect of our lives - from health to finances to relationships - can be a struggle, but having the willpower to kick an unproductive or even destructive habit starts with understanding the science behind it. A psychologist from Stanford University Kelly McGonigal outlines 4 things to consider when putting together your New Year Plan in her book The Willpower Instinct:

Organised Chaos

The first step to setting New Year Resolutions you’ll stick to is structure. Keeping yourself completely organised keeps you accountable to avoid slip-ups. This includes keeping a journal to track your progress or set reminders on your calendar to complete certain tasks. For example, if you’re looking to give back to your community, be sure to actually allocate time aside to volunteer instead of just making an empty promise to yourself. If you’d like to lead a healthier lifestyle, keep track of fitness goals & diet plans in a notebook, so you can evaluate your progress in a concrete way. 

Perilous Peer Pressure

In her quantitative study, McGonigal found that a person is 171% more likely to become obese when they have a friend who is also obese. Identifying friends, colleagues, or family members who have a negative influence on your behaviour allows you to prepare for or ignore triggers, focus on your own goal, and better allocate time. In contrast, you can then spend more time with those who share the same feelings as you, or will keep you accountable. For example, try joining a jogging club or forum for health conscious people.

The Progress Mystique

Researchers from the University of Chicago found that 85% of dieters who were reminded of their progress prior to being offered a chocolate bar or apple will go on to chose chocolate. After your brain is satisfied with knowing that your efforts have paid off, processes for obtaining that goal is switched off. Rather than seeing a long-term goal in the form of checklists, try asking yourself these questions instead to keep your eyes on the prize:

  • What are the long-term rewards for keeping up your goal? (e.g. better health, happiness, financial security, etc.)
  • Who are the other people who will benefit if you continue to succeed? (i.e. family, friends, colleagues, community, etc.)
  • How will your life continue to change for the better if you remain focused on your goal?

Back to the Future

Hal Hershfield devised the future-self continuity - a spectrum to which an individual connects their present and future self. Those who have a stronger sense of the future-self continuity are found to act more ethically and responsibly in the long-term. The best way to strengthen this awareness is to imagine yourself in the future in detail (e.g. What's your appearance? Where are you in your career? Who are you surrounded by?). You can also try writing a letter to your future self to be opened years down the road as well. The most important thing to keep in mind as you set and realise your New Year Resolution is to clear your mind of the noise and focus on your personal journey. Good luck everyone!

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