05/01/2011 16:40 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Why New Year's Resolutions Are Bad For You

If you've decided 2011 is the year you'll stop smoking, lose weight, join a gym and get fit - plus various other self-improving measures - stop making lists of unachievable New Year resolutions right now.

Start cycling when the roads are less icy Want to start cycling as part of your new fitness regime? Our tip: wait until the roads are less icy. Photo: Flickr, lululemon athletica

It's easy to see why so many people make resolutions on January 1st. Having a monster hangover, for instance, is a sure way to make you want to drink and smoke less (or even quit altogether, depending on how badly you're suffering). And if you've binged all over Christmas, you may think resolving to eat less from January onwards is the solution to your expanded waistline.

But New Year resolutions are notoriously difficult to stick to. Psychologists, for instance, reckon around one in 10 people will actually keep up their resolutions for any amount of time. University of Hertfordshire researchers followed 3,000 people who made resolutions in January, and by the following December only 12% had stuck to their aims.

Why do we fail?
It could be something to do with the fact that we don't see results quickly enough when we make New Year resolutions, or that January can be such a downer most of us give in to temptation just to give ourselves a boost.

And to add insult to injury, when we do give up a resolution we just feel guilty and worthless. So why set yourself up for failure in the first place?

The truth is, when it comes to making changes that affect your health, any day is a good day to start. So if cutting calories is just too difficult at this time of year, set yourself the task of eating as healthily as you can while it's cold outside, then start a proper weight-loss campaign in the spring.

Baby steps
Alternatively, if you're determined to try and better yourself at the beginning of the year, take small, achievable steps, and limit the number of areas that need attention to one or two at a time, rather than put yourself through the pain of giving up everything that could make January more enjoyable at the same time.

Meanwhile, research suggests women stand a better chance of sticking to their goals (whatever time of year them start them) if they tell their friends, family and work colleagues about their aims. Men, on the other hand, are more successful if they give themselves very specific goals (such as, 'I want to lose a stone' rather than 'I want to lose weight').

Keep a record
Other strategies that might help include writing down the reasons why you're trying to make a change in your behaviour and reading them back to yourself on a regular basis. Writing down everything you eat - that is, keeping a food diary - may also help you stick to a healthier diet, or keeping track of what exercise you do in a journal may have a similar effect on your fitness levels.

And if you're trying to cut down on alcohol, keeping a record of what you're drinking could help too, as it's all too easy to drink more than you should without realising it.

Most importantly, whatever you do this month remember that living more healthily and boosting your wellbeing are things you can start doing on any day of the year, not just on January 1st.

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