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New year’s resolution dying already? B.C. psychologist has the answer

Resolutions are cliche – adopting healthy habits takes time, UVic expert says
Ryan Rhodes is a University of Victoria professor and expert in exercise science, studying the psychology behind healthy behaviours. (Photo courtesy of the University of Victoria)

The new year is not even 2 weeks old, but some British Columbia residents may find their 2022 resolutions are already going by the wayside.

Habitual behaviour takes time to implement and failed new year intentions are nothing to be ashamed of, said Ryan Rhodes, a University of Victoria health psychology and exercise science researcher who studies the psychology of physical activity motivation.

“Resolutions in the new year are a cultural phenomenon where we all engage in these self-betterment practices, but unfortunately it’s almost a cliche at this point because people fall off within a very short period of time,” he said.

The gap between intention and behaviour, as well as a lack of enjoyment of newly adopted practices, is the main reason people fail to abide by stifling resolutions, Rhodes said.

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“Studies show that if you can hold your goals for about six to eight weeks it becomes easier once you’re in that patterned behaviour.”

From an evolutionary perspective, basic human tendencies are to embrace pleasant experiences and to avoid negative ones as much as possible, he said. “With this basic principle in mind, it allows us to do some troubleshooting around how to prioritize goals and make them work.”

To resolve this conundrum, Rhodes said it’s imperative to pair something you enjoy with health changes that might initially feel like a burden.

People may find a way out of going to the gym, for example, because it can be unpleasant, but may find it more enjoyable if they bring a friend. Or a person may avoid going for a walk after dinner until they discover it opens up time for them to listen to their favourite podcast, he said.

The most important thing, Rhodes said, is to continue implementing small and sustainable changes over time, even if you fall off the wagon momentarily – you can begin again any time.