If you’re looking toward 2017 in hopes that it will be a happier, healthier, more financially secure year than the one coming to a close, you’re certainly not alone. Every year, almost half of the population (45 percent) makes some form of New Year’s resolution, but only 8 percent of that group ultimately achieves what they set out to change. The rest of us are left to languish in our unhealthy, unhappy habits until Jan. 1 rolls around yet again and we muster our courage to give it another go.
If New Year’s resolutions are so often unsuccessful, why do we make them at all? It turns out that we consider events like New Year’s Day, our birthdays, and the start of a new school year to be “temporal landmarks.” That is, they symbolize the passage of time and allow us to feel that the days and months ahead are a blank slate we can fill with better versions of ourselves and our habits.
The trouble is that days like New Year’s, our birthdays, and the first day of school only come around once a year. Long-term behavioral change, whether you’re trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or gain control of your finances, is actually quite difficult and takes time. One study showed that it can take the average habit changer anywhere from 18 to 254 days (over 8 months) to implement a new behavior consistently.
But we struggle with the misconception that small setbacks to our resolutions, such as overeating or lighting up one cigarette, cause us to “fall off the wagon” entirely. We essentially use our slip-ups as excuses to revert to our old behaviors. In the back of our minds, we resolve to try again next year, but given our history of failure, will that ever really work?
The trick to successful long-term behavioral change is to shorten the time between a possible slip-up and the next temporal landmark. Instead of waiting an entire year, consider a landmark that comes around, say, 52 times more often. Monday, occurring at the beginning of every new week, offers the perfect opportunity.
In fact, there is a body of research demonstrating that we already use Monday as the day to start and sustain healthy new habits. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that people search Google for health-related terms more often on Mondays than toward the end of the week, suggesting that Monday is the day we all have health on the brain. The same pattern was observed about tobacco-related searches.
A nationwide survey conducted by FGI Research in 2014 showed that Monday is not only the day when we’re all thinking about health, but it’s also the day we’re most likely to actually start a new healthy behavior, such as a new diet or exercise routine. The same survey found that more than half of people see Monday positively as an opportunity for a “fresh start” or a day to “get my act together.”
Perhaps the most important finding of all? Participants in the FGI Research survey also reported that starting the week off with a healthy behavior such as exercise, healthy eating, good stress management, or a positive attitude helps keep them on track throughout the week.
Think about it, have you ever used the hashtag #DietStartsMonday? Monday is naturally the day that we are all thinking about giving our health a reboot. The trick is to tap into that mentality and consciously use every Monday as a new opportunity to check in with yourself, wipe the slate clean of any of the previous week’s slip-ups, and determine the small but substantial actions you’ll take in the coming week to work towards achieving your goal.
Consider this: New Year’s Day is a Sunday this year. Take the day to relax, rejuvenate, and think about your goals for the year to come. Then on Monday, Jan. 2, commit to a year of Mondays. Schedule a calendar reminder for every Monday morning and set aside some time to reflect on the past week and how you can better stick to your goals in the coming week. Try the following tips:
- Write down your challenges from the previous week and your goals for the week to come. Be sure to consider any possible hiccups, like an upcoming occasion where you know unhealthy food will be served. Plan out your strategy in advance: Will this be the rare occasion of the week when you allow yourself to indulge, or will you be sure to bring along your own healthy meal? Having a plan is half the battle.
- Use Monday to schedule your healthy activities. Whatever your goal is, at the start of each week, schedule tasks you need to complete in order to achieve it into your calendar just like you would an important meeting. Whether it’s a gym visit, a healthy meal, or a daily brisk walk instead of your usual cigarette break, prioritize it with the importance it deserves as you plan your week.
- Use Monday to check in with a friend. Find out if anyone in your circle of friends is pursuing a similar goal. On Mondays, shoot that person a quick text asking how their week is looking. Perhaps schedule a time to get together for a healthy meal or an exercise date. Accountability will help you and your buddy stay on track with your goals.
- Do Meatless Monday. Starting off the week with a day packed with delicious vegetarian meals is a great habit to be in, no matter what your goals are! Visit MeatlessMonday.com for tips and recipes.
Above all, don’t forget that if you don’t manage to stick with the goal you set out to achieve one week, that’s no reason to completely give up on your resolution. The next time Monday rolls around, buckle down and go after it again. Visit MondayCampaigns.org for more resources to help keep you on track.
Diana K. Rice is the registered dietitian on staff with The Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit public health marketing initiative in partnership with Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, and Columbia universities. Rice helps people harness the power of Monday to achieve their health goals through her work on the organization’s Meatless Monday and Kids Cook Monday initiatives.