Many of us across East Africa gladly bid farewell to 2022. The year proved turbulent around the world.
Internationally, we witnessed staggering Russian government aggression against Ukraine and the commensurate spike in oil prices pushing inflation up the world over.
Global instability with heightened aggression by other nations too created further uncertainty in financial markets and higher interest rates.
Here in Kenya, we faced the political disruptions of a general election and the commensurate results challenge.
Economically, we saw a contraction and a shocking devaluation of the Kenyan shilling. We faced the sad realities of drought in certain regions.
Millions of Kenyans felt squeezed with the higher prices and stagnant wages as we face the uncertainty.
But we gaze longingly towards a prospectively more hopeful year ahead.
We trust with determination yet trepidation that 2023 will prove better for all of us at the macro level.
But we also hope for micro improvements to our lives and thousands of Kenyans will utilise New Year’s resolutions to try to bring about desired changes.
New Year’s resolutions often range from better spending habits, heightened new job searching, losing weight, or exercising in the year ahead.
Some other Kenyan media houses like to publish unsupported statistics that only 1 percent of resolutions are kept or successful.
Others print that up to 73 percent of Kenyans make New Year’s resolutions. But globally, the proportion of those who make and utilise New Year’s resolutions stands at around 40 percent.
A recent large-scale study by Martin Oscarsson shows that New Year’s resolution success rates actually hover around a surprisingly high 55 percent.
So, let us investigate how to scientifically improve our chances that our micro New Year’s resolutions succeed.
Of Oscarsson’s findings, two interesting results stand out. Those individuals who make approach-oriented goals succeed far more than those who put forth avoidance-oriented goals.
Meaning, if you put a positive spin on your resolution such as “eat healthier with two helpings of vegetables per day” you will have a higher success rate than a negative approach such as “avoid candy six days out of each week”.
Next, he found that those who receive support from family, friends, support groups, or professionals were statistically more likely to succeed in their resolution goals than those who strike out and proceed alone.
Additional recent research by Joel Weinberger and Valentina Stoycheva shows that most of our daily operating occurs at the unconscious level.
This unconscious centrality in human functioning provides key insights into why it becomes so difficult to create a new resolution habit.
Instead, utilise implicit learning, implicit motivation, automaticity, and embodied cognition to reach your unconscious and improve your chances of succeeding with New Year’s resolutions.
But what does that mean and how to do that?
Here are steps on how to do so as pointed out by psychologist Valentina Stoycheva.
First, make your New Year’s resolution desirable. Do not think about the new habit as something you must do, because that would make you see it as a negative and then implicitly avoid it.
Rather think of it as something you are excited to do to achieve a marvelous goal, whether from losing weight to working smarter in one’s job.
Second, pair your new desired habit with another already established habit. Stoycheva suggests that if you need to accomplish a task, such as exercising, to achieve your resolution, then pair it to one of your other favourite acitivites, like listening to your favourite song.
You then start to associate the undesirable task with your desirable pairing condition and thus enhance your enjoyment of it.
Michelle Shnayder-Adams and Aarti Sekhar call these micro-habits. Stacking habits on top of each other once one is formed, add another to the same pairing.
Third, avoid negative thought loops. If you actively try to destroy a habit, perhaps eating ice cream, then you actually end up thinking of ice cream all the more.
Instead, create a new habit that focuses on an activity to do, rather than avoid.
Actively purchase alternatives to ice cream so that you do not see ice cream in your freezer and get tempted to eat it.
Fourth, try over and over again. Many give up on their resolutions when they fail to adhere to their new habits a few times.
But successful resolution achievers keep pushing forward and try and try again until the new habit is completely formed and firmly a part of their lives.
Success exists as a marathon, not a sprint. Hold a view to the long-term.