New Year’s Resolutions – How do I Make Sure these Changes Stick?

New Year’s Resolutions – How do I Make Sure these Changes Stick?

Happy 2018!

We can’t escape it! Every year we make new resolutions. But we know we are not fools; what are the odds that we will really make these changes effectively over the long-term? How often do we hear someone say, “I’m not make any resolutions this year! Resolutions are useless! I tried it in the past, and it doesn’t work!” Failure is a bitter lesson!

On the other hand, we all know people who have quit smoking, changed their eating habits and their lifestyle to lose considerable amounts of weight, or who started to meditate. So what is their secret?

Since this is an age-old question, much research has been done on the matter and on the stages of change.  If we look at those who have been able to implement change, maybe we can follow their guidelines, too!

Do you need to be inspired?

Resolutions to improve eating habits: Eating healthier (more fruit and vegetables, less meat), eating breakfast every morning, keeping well hydrated (drinking more water), etc.

Resolutions to improve our mood: Taking time out for yourself, meditating, learning to say “no” and managing stress levels, etc.

Resolutions to improve physical health: Integrating physical activity into your daily routine (ex. Walking to school), doing exercises from your physiotherapist on a more regular basis, etc.


A Model to Follow and Some Helpful Strategies

In 1983, a model was proposed which describes the different stages of change. It was named after the authors and called Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model(1). On one hand it is a linear model in that you have to go through the steps one by to reach the end, but on the other hand it is possible to revert to a previous stage. Each stage can lead to a failure or regression which reroutes one back to an earlier stage or to the starting point. The interesting part is that failure or relapse is actually part of the process – a part of the model(2). Completion of the six stages is not an expected outcome without stumbling and eventually attaining success. It is expected that you will go through several relapses before arriving at the last stage. For exemple, a smoker may need 4 to 6 attempts to be able to quit definitely(3).

So if you failed to keep last New Year’s resolutions, great! You’re progressing!

To move from one stage to another in the model, you have to apply certain strategies and actions. There are a couple of things you need to know before we continue:

Decisional Balance:(3)You probably already know this. It’s when you decide the “pros” and the “cons”. Before doing something (even unconsciously), we consider that there are more “pros” than “cons” to what we are about to do. It’s basic logic! After all, who would do something if it were going to cause harm? We are referring here to a perceived value of change. Will this be advantageous for me? Is it really worth the effort?

The Feeling of Self-Efficacy: Here we are not referring to the value of change, but rather the personal value. Am I really able to make this important change?

According to Prochaska and DiClemente, it’s akin to playing a game of Snakes and Ladders. You can land on a snake at any given time and go backwards. Here is some advice to move to the next square: -Don’t forget: the number of times you regress or “fail” isn’t important and, -What’s important is to ultimately succeed no matter how many times you have to try.


Stage 1 – Precontemplation

We don’t really understand that a change will be beneficial. “Why bother?” For those who smoke, we often hear them say, “We all die from something or other anyway!” Or maybe we say, “I don’t have any health problems, so why should I exercise?” This is the first Stage. If we refer to New Year’s Day, it’s because this stage is already in the past, and we are looking at changing more seriously.

Some strategies to keep on going: The best thing to do here is to look at the positive side of change by tilting the balance towards the “pros”(4). This change often comes from the outside, our surroundings, our friends or information we see in the media.


Stage 2 – Contemplation


At this point we are aware of the “pros” and the benefits that change can bring, but we are not yet ready to commit to changing. Why? There are still too many inconveniences or “cons”. Or maybe our feelings of personal success have been shaken up by past failures.

Some strategies to keep on going: At this point, the best way to move on is to lessen the impact of the “cons”. For a smoker who wants to quit, the negative impacts could be weight gain, difficulty managing stress or other negative emotions, etc. It is important to lessen the negative aspects. Are there ways to help manage stress when you quit smoking? Finding out how to resolve the negative impacts by discovering answers within our reach will help improve our feeling of personal success.


Stage 3 – Preparation

At this point a decision has been made! We are now ready and preparing for change. This is kind of where we are when we make a New Year’s resolution. We formulate our ideas. “I’m going to work out three times a week”. Good! But don’t skip out on this step – this is where you foresee potential pitfalls and make sure you have set realistic goals. It’s also where you define proper solutions to anything negative that could arise, like we just discussed.

Some strategies to keep on going: Set a date(5)! For us, this is easy! January 1, 2018. But you have to know this date is not set in stone. You could also choose a date like February 3, 2018. And you need to foresee that if you fail and take a few steps back, you can always choose a new date. It’s easy to stagnate here and to plan indefinitely…. But it is here that you to plan for that. You may need to be reminded to do your exercises. You may need help to quit smoking. You may need to rearrange your schedule to accommodate change. This is the time to prepare for change. Don’t forget anything!

Stage 4 – Action

And here we are! Starting to exercise. Twice a week….but we wanted to go three times! Well, it’s still better than nothing. Or better than before. Change has been initiated and we are moving forward. This is the time for trial and error. We won’t necessarily reach all the goals we had planned(2). This is the stage where we will most likely regress. We realize that it is harder than we initially thought. At the same time, we are doing something concrete!

Some strategies to keep on going: Time! We’re talking about six months. And energy and support – whether it be support from others or technical support…we will discuss this later.

Stage 5 – Maintenance

Six months later: Our habits have stabilized. We’re no longer making frequent changes. However, we still have to work hard to maintain the changes we have put in place. Maybe we even have the impression that it was easier before. We are still not out of the safe zone from slipping backwards. We have to maintain our efforts and be vigilant by anticipating possible hurdles.


We didn’t make it, or at least not yet! But where are we? We have to look back and figure out which stage we are at now! Time to contemplate and think about where we are. Did the “cons” take over? Start over at the stage where you landed. Learn from your failures and be better prepared the next time. Set a new date, and don’t forget it could happen again….and again.

Stage 6 – Success

You made it! It may have taken several tries, but you did it! You’ve made a long-lasting change and have no desire to go back. Congratulations!

Tools to help you.

There is an array of tools available to help you change your habits.

Apps: There are many apps available on your smart phone that allow you to track yourself and your improvements. Some of these apps even offer rewards as positive reinforcement.

Support: There are online support groups to discuss and to connect with people just like you. And don’t forget about those around you: your friends, family, colleagues, etc.

Portable Aids: Since we don’t have someone following us around all the time, we can count on technology! Surely you know about Fitbit and Apple watches that track your physical activity, your sleep, your heart rate, etc. But there are more portable devices. Some bracelets can be programmed to recognize your arm movements associated with the habit that you want to control, like chewing your fingernails. The bracelet knows when you put your hand to your mouth and will send feedback, such as a vibration. Pavlok bracelet is an exemple. Reviews and opinions about that product are mixed.

Keen Bracelet, created by HabitAware, is designed by and for people who experience repeated self-behavior. Those behaviors, experienced by many people, are destructive towards their own body, and may be compulsive. Nail bitting (to the point of bleeding), hair pulling (trichotillomania), and skin picking (dermatillomania) are names for these disorders. Since they are often unconscious, the Keen Bracelet is there to constantly remind you.

Few studies have been done on the use of these technological aids in changing our every-day (bad) habits, yet those that have been completed show promise(6). Reviews and personal testimonials can guide you in your decision-making until more since scientific information becomes available.

Good luck with your 2018 resolutions!


To find out more……


1 – DiClemente, C. C. & Prochaska J. O. (1984), The transtheoretical approach ; crossing traditional boundaries of therapy, Dow-Jones-Irwin.
3 –…/399…/etapes-de-changement-de-comportement.ppt
4 – Hall, K. & Rossi, J. (2008) Meta-analytic examination of the strong and weak principles across 48 health behaviors, Preventive medicine, 48(3), p. 266-274.
6 – Stephenson, A. McDonough, S. M. Murphy, M. H. Nugent C. D. & Mair, J. L. (2017) Using computer, mobile and wearable technology enhanced interventions to reduce sedentary behaviour : A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Behavrioral nutrition and physical activity, 141-17.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]