At the start of a new year, we usually select new year's resolutions for ourselves. Starting the year off with a jet pack of rocket fuel, achieving all we set out to do. Working hard, hitting the gym, vegan diet. The motivation and enthusiasm is great but unfortunately the jet pack runs out of fuel and brings us crashing down to earth, just to fire it up in the new year again.
And don't get me wrong. I know how difficult it is to maintain everything - work, personal, social - it's exhausting. Our intentions aren't at fault. Health and wellbeing should be a priority. We would all like to get ahead at work. The question remains, although we have made the decision to change, why doesn't this change last on the long term?
Could it have something to do with the way we implement this behaviour change? Research shows that there are certain factors to take into consideration to ensure a long term positive behaviour change.
How to psychologically change your behaviour
A study published in 2018 outlined the positive cognitive processes which underlie positive health behaviour change. One of the fundamental findings from literature is to enjoy the activity that you undertake, while doing the activity. It is not enough to rely on the positive feelings after the workout is completed to keep you going on the long term. One size does not fit all. Research and try multiple different sports or activities to find something that you truly enjoy. It takes more effort but if you're investing in long term commitment, it's worth it.
Furthermore, the study outlined a 'positive spiral' which drives lifestyle change.
Besides the positive emotion we experience from healthy behaviours, we also have non-conscious drivers for this behaviour. The motives (hormonal release) are triggered by the enjoyment for the activity and certain 'cues'. This could mean planning your activity by scheduling it into your calendar, planning meals or placing your workout equipment in a visible spot.
Once you've built momentum for a positive lifestyle change, you reach the outer ring of the spiral. This section is based on the 'broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions'. It states that positive change is supported by your personal resources - cognitive, biological, psychological and social. The theory proposes that positive emotions lead to a broadened cognitive scope which utilises our personal resources in pursuit of further positive outcomes. The broadened cognitive scope is also linked to a number of other behaviours linked to success, such as prosocial behaviour, coping, sociability and creativity (Armenta et al. 2017).
Are all positive emotions equal?
We know that positive emotion grows our personal resources, in turn leading to long term healthy changes. However, which emotion evokes the strongest response? That is still up for debate. Awe has been linked to increased humility, a construct associated with success in organisational leadership. Pride has been associated with the achievement of valuable life goals and perserverance through difficult tasks.
Despite research on positive emotion being very new, evidence has emerged on the benefits of #gratitude. Experiencing this emotion lowers our stress levels and makes us more content and satisfied with life. A study hypothesised that due to the profound effects it has, it motivates us to self-improvement, leading researchers to think that it might be an important factor for long-term lifestyle change.
Setting new year's resolution is a great idea. It shows that you have the intention of self-improvement. But the implementation there-of should change. It should be regarded as a lifestyle change which requires not only physical but also psychological commitment.
If you're having difficulties making your new year's resolutions a reality, check out our Train and Gain package. It's specifically designed to facilitate behaviour change on the long term, with the help of a trained professional guiding you every step of the way.