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How Can You Keep Your New Year Resolutions?

12/01/2015 15:55 GMT | Updated 13/03/2015 09:59 GMT

It's the time of year where many of us consider where we want our lives to be heading, and (possibly) refresh our sense of optimism about our ability to influence this. New Year's Resolutions were originally promises to the Roman God Janus, who looked both backwards and forwards in time. Of all of us who make these promises, research suggests only one in five stick to them.

What makes the 20% able to keep their resolutions? Studies suggests that there are strategies that help to set and to keep goals, and common pitfalls you can avoid.

One of the things that helps our chances of keeping our resolutions is having a reminder of our pledge nearby. Illustrator Linzie Hunter might be able to help with this. For the month of January she is hand lettering other people's New Year's resolutions.

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In her call-out for contributions,  Linzie requested no cynical asides about the fruitlessness of resolutions, although she admits that deep down she shares the same thoughts. "I have mixed feelings," she said.  

Linzie has had a large response already. She thought she would get mostly fitness and weight loss goals but that hasn't been the case: "I've been surprised by the honesty," she said. " Some I don't feel I could repeat, never mind illustrate."  

Linzie has noticed some common themes: "worry less, be more focused, be happy, spend more time with friends and family.   And most telling of all, spend less time on social media." Linzie's own resolution is "to work with people I like and not for people I don't. And sleep. I'm going to get more of that in February."

Other top tips for helping us to keep our resolutions come from a great study by Norcross and Vangerelli, and a more recent review by Mann and colleagues. There are a whole load of things that can boost your chances of sticking to your goals. Here are some of them:

Setting Goals

- Make sure it's a change that you really want to make, not someone else.

- Set goals which fit with other things that are important to you, so you don't feel conflicted.

- Try setting targets that hit more than one goal at once. E.g. exercising with a friend helps you spend more time with friends and also get fitter.

- Make your goal an 'approach goal' instead of an 'avoidance goal'. Aim for a desired outcome instead of aiming to avoid an undesired outcome so that it's easier to feel a sense of achievement.

- Use 'mastery goals' instead of 'performance goals'. Trying to get better at a skill or behaviour instead of achieving a specific target tends to be more motivational.

Sticking to it

- Reward yourself when you do well.

- Avoid getting at yourself if you slip up - try to use it for renewed motivation instead.

- Seek out people and places that help you stick to your resolutions.

- Imagine and mentally rehearse the behaviour you want to do more of. Visualisation helps.

- Try to spot potential barriers in advance and plan how to overcome them.

- Aim to make your new behaviour into an automatic habit by scheduling it in regularly.

- Remind yourself of the long term aim you are striving towards.

Given that an estimated 50% of mortality from the leading causes of death has been attributed to reducible behaviours such as unhealthy eating, lack of exercise and smoking, understanding what helps us to make and stick to goals could be key, not just for sticking to our New Year Resolutions, but for our wider health and wellbeing.

If you want a chance of having a resolutions reminder hand lettered by Linzie Hunter get in touch with her here at www.linziehunter.co.uk or @linziehunter on Twitter.