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Stick to your New Year’s resolutions

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There are steps you can take to ensure behaviour change, says Patrick Ladbury.

We’re a couple of weeks into 2012 now, and many of you will have made resolutions to change particular behaviours, which have already started to slide. You may have tried to lose weight, drink less, change the way you work or even get a new job.

Even the government is getting in on the act, asking health professionals to change their behaviour by talking to other people about…changing their behaviour.

So how do you keep a New Year’s resolution? There are a number of steps you can take that will help you achieve your goals (and any other behaviour changes that you want to make during the next year – behaviour change is not just for Christmas!).

Is the resolution something you are ready for or is it just something you feel you have to do? Consider viewing it as a trial for a specific period of time, rather than a permanent change – this will make it seem less daunting. There is a general rule that it takes 30 days to break a daily habit.

Be clear about the behaviour you are aiming to change and when you do it.

My sister set herself the resolution of being less critical in 2012. When discussing it with her, I suggested this was too vague. She needs to decide who she is critical of, when she does it and whether there is a specific thing she always criticises. For example: “I will stop being critical and losing my temper with my son first thing in the morning when we are getting ready for school.”

You could apply this clarity to your own resolution. For example, what type of exercise you will take and when will you do it? For example, will you take the stairs every morning at work rather than using the lift?

Decide what success looks like, how you will monitor your progress and stay motivated. You could chart your achievements on a calendar or put a coin in a pot every day you keep your resolution (or perhaps as a penalty when you break it).

The more public your commitment to your resolution, the more likely you are to keep it.

It’s important to reward yourself. As well as having the reward of keeping your resolution, you may want to motivate yourself with the thought of a bigger reward after a set time (new clothes, a day’s holiday and so on). Keeping your motivation up is key.

These steps may take a little bit more time but you are more likely to succeed if you follow them. And don’t forget that you are not trying to force a change on somebody who doesn’t want it – you already have the mindset to change if you have thought about your resolution. The steps above are just some extra help. Good luck.

Questions to help you keep your New Year’s resolutions

● Are you ready to change? Viewing it as a trial will make it seem less daunting

● Are you specific about what you want to change? Apply clarity to your resolution

● How do you know if you are successful? Decide what success will look like and how you will monitor your progress

● How do you keep motivated? Reward yourself after a set time

Patrick Ladbury is head of training at the National Social Marketing Centre. The centre was set up by the Department of Health to build capacity and skills in behaviour change programmes using social marketing principles (

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