If you take a look at social media, you’ll come away thinking that the only thing you need to follow through on the best of intentions — New Year’s resolutions — is to be determined enough and committed enough.
The experts know it takes so much more.
“I think people set goals without considering the science of goal-setting and habit change,” says Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of The Lighthouse Arabia.
“That isn’t the case,” she continues. “Habit change is basically like trying to break an addiction. It takes intention, effort, will-power, understanding the underlying issues, what the triggers are, and bounce-back plans.”
Set an intention
And when you do that, be clear about your motivation, says Dr. Afridi. “The why is more important than the how sometimes.”
Make a schedule and stick to it
But do this with a focus on ‘if / then’ statements.
“For instance, ‘if I crave a cigarette I will chew gum,’ or ‘if I go to the grocery store I will avoid the junk food aisle.’” Time management is crucial as well, Dr. Afridi adds. “If I want to start the habit of exercising or decluttering once a week, it needs to be scheduled and planned.”
Troubleshoot ahead of mistakes
“When was the last time you tried to stop or change a habit? What got in the way? Plan for obstacles before you start,” says Dr Afridi. If you do fall off track, don’t panic. Just set yourself a bounce-back plan.
Start with small steps
“Instead of saying, ‘I will work out 30 minutes a day’, start with 5k steps [5,000 steps per day] or seven minutes at the gym.” You can squat every time you go to the printer at work, or hold a plank for a minute when you wake up. “The goal is not baby steps,” says Dr Afridi. “It’s tiny micro-movements until enough momentum is developed and you can move faster to your goal.”
Change your environment
“If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t bring sugar home,” she says. “If you’re trying to stop smoking, don’t go into a smoking restaurant.” Stress-reducing elements in your home, like turning off the wifi, adding aromatherapy and candles, and staying away from toxic people all helps. “Remember, stress reduces willpower and we move into our default, unconscious settings,” says Dr Afridi. “To stay on course, we have to manage our stress and our time.”
Prepare for UAE-specific challenges
Socializing is a massive part of the lifestyle here. This can seriously impact reaching some of your goals, says Dr Afridi. “Staying out late, not getting enough sleep, eating out too often, not going to the gym because you are tired.” All the tempting brunches or indulgent dinners can impact pretty much everything.
To combat this, Dr Afridi points to one thing: a plan. “Keep that plan until a new habit is formed. Don’t let yourself get distracted by the business of social life of Dubai.”
If a goal does crash and burn, don’t beat yourself up about it. “Habit change and goal achievement is very difficult,” says Dr Afridi.
Just go back to the six steps and try again.
This article was originally published in 2019.
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist and globally recognized influencer and leader in the body acceptance movement.