The secret to successful New Year's resolutions

January 11, 2013

Joni Rampolla

Why are New Year's resolutions so hard to keep?

Pleasurable habits, even if not healthy (like eating indulgent food), release the chemical dopamine in the brain, which in turn provides the body with good feelings. When you repeat a pleasurable behavior, it deepens neurological pathways in the brain, making habits difficult to break.

Every time we use a habit, we strengthen its pathway. Eventually the grooves become so deep that they're very hard to alter. In fact, the human brain prefers habitual behavior since it's comfortable and familiar.

Here are some suggestions to have success with a new healthy habit or resolution:

1. Set a resolution you are motivated to achieve. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest motivation, you would score at least an 8 for motivation to achieve your goal or pick a different goal.
2. Make your goal realistic. It would be great to lose 50 pounds by next Thursday, but that is not realistic. Maybe 50 pounds in 6 months is achievable.
3. Set small goals throughout the year and follow up. I will lose 8 pounds per month and evaluate my progress each month. Adjust your plan as you go to make success achievable without emotion attached. Adjusting my goal does not change who I am.
4. Replace a bad habit with a healthy habit. Repeating a healthy habit over and over is the best way to rewire the brain.
5. Identify and remember "why" you chose this resolution. What makes it important to you to achieve. Look to the future without getting discouraged. The immediate reward you get from a bad habit can be stronger than the delayed satisfaction from choosing a new path, so keep focused on your future and your "why" reason to keep your motivation high.

Give yourself time. Some people take a couple attempts before they get their goal achieved. Stay focused on the positive accomplishments and don't get discouraged. Any progress toward better health is an accomplishment!

Joni Rampolla is a registered dietician and certified health coach.

Originally published Jan 11, 2013 10:00:04 AM.