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How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Jan 18, 2024

It was late in the evening but the air was full of grunts as over a dozen sweat-slicked bodies packed the medium-sized gym which is located in a mall here and has its own private entrance.

A few hours earlier, the studio as well as cardio- and strength-training rooms were even more full.

The sight is nothing new for Anytime Fitness club manager Siti Maryam Zainal Abidin who has seen it all in her 18 years in the fitness industry.

“(We always see more people in the gym just after New Year because) with New Year’s resolutions, health and fitness are always tops,” she told Bernama.

With the new year comes a promise of renewal, which is why people usually choose to make resolutions to improve various aspects of their lives, according to consultant psychologist Dr Hariyati Shahrima Abdul Majid.

“The new year signifies a new chapter in life. They’ve had 365 days to look back on and see what are the things that they’ve learned, what are the things they’re not happy about, what are the things they have had time to reflect on… and they want to do something different. They want to be able to improve themselves,” she said.

“It is a goal or promise people make to themselves,” she added.

However, that promise rarely gets kept. Past studies on New Year’s resolutions have found that about 80 percent of resolutions falter around February.

A recent Forbes Health Survey on 2024 resolutions found that people are keeping to their promises longer, depending on the resolution. However, most give up within four months. The top resolutions listed in the survey are improving health and fitness, finances and mental health.

But just because the failure rate is high, it does not mean that people should give up on resolutions.

 

FAILURE

While improving health and fitness is the top resolution (48 percent) among the 1,000 respondents in the United States who participated in the Forbes survey for 2024, improving finances came in second at 38 percent and mental health at 36 percent. Respondents could choose more than one resolution in the survey.

Overall, 55 percent said improving both physical and mental health is important. Part of improving mental health is regulating emotions and having a work-life balance.

Hariyati Shahrima, who is also a senior lecturer at IJN College (which is run by the National Heart Institute), was happy that more people are placing more importance on mental health issues, which she said became front and centre due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s less stigma now (concerning mental health),” she said.

However, she added, the easy part is deciding on change. Sticking with the decision is another matter.

Siti Maryam said one of the reasons gym attendance drops around February, where it remains mostly static before dropping further in December and spiking in January, is because many get bored with exercise and going to the gym by then.

“They get bored and demotivated because they failed to make it a habit,” she said, adding it takes doing something consistently for at least six weeks for it to become a habit.

Hariyati Shahrima agreed, saying that new things tend to make people feel uncomfortable and it is hard to keep doing something uncomfortable.

“So this discomfort is often associated with (you not being able to) continue what you want to do,” she said.

Nevertheless, she said it is possible for people to stay motivated and be able to continue with the change.

 

CONTEMPLATION

Experts told Bernama people should, firstly, analyse their resolutions and their capabilities to meet them before trying to meet their goals.

“(They fail because) people don’t engage in contemplation on what they want to change. Or are they able to? Are they ready?” said Hariyati Shahrima.

She said they need to specify their limits, what they want to achieve and how they will achieve their goals with an action plan.

She added people should also be aware that changes do not happen overnight but are a process. They should also be in for the long haul.

Commenting on resolutions pertaining to finances, managing editor of online personal finance content portal The Simple Sum, Seow Kai Lun, said examining one’s expenses and spending is crucial before specifying the goal. People should also know the difference between want and need.

She said the more specific the objective, the better it is. She gave examples of paying off student loans, or saving or investing a certain amount of money for the year.

She also warned against unrealistic expectations.

“It keeps you motivated if you see yourself getting there step-by-step (if you keep an achievable goal),” she said.

“But if you’re starting from 0, it is unrealistic to be able to hit RM100,000 within the year.”

She said people should examine their previous experiences and spending habits so they may figure out their financial comfort zone, such as how much money they can easily put aside and how much they can cut. Once they have figured out their comfort zone, they can build on it.

“And if you achieve it, then next year you can aim to go even higher because your comfortable zone now is what was previously the uncomfortable zone,” she said.

Unrealistic expectations also apply to health and fitness goals.

“Some people tell me they want to drop 10 kg in one month. I can help them do it but that’s not healthy or sustainable. Once they stop, they regain the weight,” said Siti Maryam.

Having realistic goals will also help mental health. Hariyati Shahrima called on employers to provide their employees access to psychological services especially those provided by private third parties to preserve anonymity.

 

HAVE FRIENDS

Other than improving one’s mental health, having friends can also help one meet their fitness and financial goals.

Siti Maryam said having friends to share fitness goals and activities with will motivate people, especially women, to go to the gym or do other activities.

“Female members feel a bit shy. It is harder for them to stick to the routine. It’s hard for them to ask for help because most trainers are men,” she said, noting it is easier for men to occupy the gym.

Seow, meanwhile, said involving friends in purchase decisions will help with instant accountability by preventing one from impulsive buys or helping one to track their spending. They can also cheerlead one to keep to their financial goals.

She also said to be prepared to cut off online temptations, such as through social media and shopping apps, by deleting them.

 

Other than that, she suggested that people who have trouble controlling their spending use the cash-stuffing tactic, which involves spending only cash.

“With cash stuffing, you only have a limited amount (to spend), all in cash. That is where you are really forced to evaluate each and every dollar or ringgit you spend,” she said.

She added this will help instill the discipline to keep to one’s budget.

 

DON’T QUIT

Most importantly, the experts said don’t give up. Instead, be creative and flexible and find alternatives if one’s resolution journey gets a hiccup.

Both Siti Maryam and Hariyati Shahrima said if one fails to keep to their goal, such as slacking off and not exercising for a few weeks, they should just pick up where they left off instead of giving up completely.

“Just keep sticking to your resolution. You can reset at any time,” said Siti Maryam.

“The black-and-white mentality or all-or-none thinking. Do the diet or not at all. I think that is one of the reasons why people fail,” Hariyati Shahrima chimed in.

She said change does not necessarily have to be locked in at the start of a new year, saying it can happen anytime one is ready to start the process.

She added one should not be disheartened and to take what little victories when available. She warned against becoming one’s worst critic.

“One of the cognitive distortions is people only see what they want to see. Hear what they want to hear. (For example,) 0.5 kg of weight loss in two weeks is something that is an achievement (even though) people say they should lose one or two kg,” she said.

kredit:FokusBERNAMA

 

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