TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As 2021 comes to an end, many look ahead to the New Year and what it could bring. New Year’s resolutions often include self-improvement or external goals, said Dr. John Burkhardt, associate professor of behavioral psychology at The University of Alabama.
Whether those goals are to lose weight or tackle a new skill, Burkhardt recommends a realistic understanding of the goal and how to achieve it.
“Having big goals like losing weight are fine, but sometimes big goals can be overwhelming,” Burkhardt said.
To combat New Year’s resolution plateaus, Burkhardt advised not to focus on the end goal, but instead to appreciate the journey. Set small goals throughout the process or treat yourself for small victories. Oftentimes, people start resolutions with positive energy and motivation but can easily get discouraged if something does not go as planned.
“I ask my patients, ‘Have you tried (this resolution) in the past?’” Burkhardt said. “If they answer yes, you have to understand what didn’t work in the past. How are we going to do something different this year? A lot of the time, that’s one of the things they really don’t know.”
Many times, a resolution means changing a behavior and behavioral reinforcement. If someone wants to lose weight, diet and exercise reinforce the resolution. However, if they plateau or meet their goal, Burkhardt said people often get worried because they don’t see the journey, or even appreciate it.
“Instead of saying I’ve got to go to the gym, reframe it as you get to go to the gym,” he said. “Small words can make a positive impact on motivation.”
Reframing how you view your resolution will not only keep you motivated, but will also encourage creating lifelong habits. To have a better outlook overall, start by saying one thing you are thankful for every day, even if it’s just being thankful for a cup of coffee, Burkhardt said.
Additional resources for self-improvement and wellness can be found on UA’s wellness website.