Ade Williams, lead pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy, community champion and brilliant ambassador for Bristol, looks at the secrets to success when making – and keeping – a New Year’s resolution.
January is traditionally the time to take stock and decide on positive changes to improve health, wellbeing, and relationships. Especially after a December and Christmas period that has again robbed many of us of our well-laid plans, it offers a chance to reset. What though is the secret to success when adopting such changes?
The first Coronavirus lockdown was undoubtedly a change catalyst for many people, especially as people sought to take advantage of the exercise freedoms allowed during the pandemic.
The statistics are compelling. Around 1.3 million Brits bought a bike during the first lockdown. Research released in April 2020 by Sports England showed that 59% of adults were walking as their daily activity, 44% of people were doing a home-based exercise (including home-based fitness classes – thanks again, Joe Wicks!). Sadly, however, Sports England’s research also showed the inequality prevalent even in seeking positive change. It highlighted the people who were finding it more challenging to be regularly active – including older people, those on a low income and those in urban areas.
A 2021 Public Health England survey provided a scorecard on the nation’s lasting performance – after that initial surge in positive activity, enthusiasm waned. It wasn’t good. One in three people reported snacking on unhealthy food and drinks at least once a day (35%) – up from 26% the previous year. One in three also said they were exercising less (30%) in the latter half of 2020. Some 23% of drinkers (at least one unit a week) claimed that their alcohol intake had increased since the second lockdown – this is reflected in a 28% increase in take-home alcohol sales compared to the previous year. Aside from offering some comfort to those of us straddled with a guilt-tied FOMO (fear of missing out) feeling, we all see the common challenge emerge.
So, why do people fail at these changes? Misappropriating enjoyment and importance as mutually significant factors for successful change is certainly one such reason. Research shows enjoyment was the only thing that mattered when adopting change. Miscued ideas about willpower, working to unrealistic timescales for adopting new behavioural patterns and habits also contributed. Every time we exercise self-control, we build up our willpower. Saying no to dessert becomes easier each time. Remember, a habit can take up to 66 days to form – don’t give up!
But what is the key to success? Good tips include focusing on developing good habits rather than meeting goals. To stay motivated, celebrate even the smallest changes. Research shows that immediate rewards from new habits help us stick to them. Be supportive of yourself as you would a friend or child.
Self-criticism is linked to less motivation and poorer self-control. Find your preference, e.g. doing activity in the morning. NHS professionals are always happy to offer you support. We share the challenges and experiences too. Increasingly, we are all aware that to do the best for people we care so much about, we must remove the veneers that feed asymmetrical balance in our relationships, replacing them with compassion and relatability.
Do also check ‘Better Health’ or visit nhs.uk/better-health for free tools and support to help you make healthy changes. Above all else, enjoy the change and go at your own pace. If nothing else, this may be a reminder that you have a bike that you have ignored for over a year now and enjoyment awaits you riding it again. Now, that is a change to cherish.