“The more specific your plan, the easier it is to keep up” | NOW

The first week of January. Without exception, the time when we optimistically begin to put our good intentions into practice. Most good intentions don’t materialize in the long run. Most people throw in the towel before February. How are you doing this year? Six questions for the professor of health psychology Lilian Lechner.

How can resolutions often fail?

Because expectations are too high, people go too fast: they go on a strict diet or make the decision to go to the gym five times a week. These unrealistic intentions are a recipe for failure. Nobody keeps a regime that is too strict for long. “

How can we maintain good intentions?

First, by setting a realistic goal. In order to do this, you must first realize that good intention is actually intention to get rid of an old habit. It’s difficult because habits are ingrained. not overnight. Research shows that it takes several months. “

“The intrinsic motivation to really want it from yourself is a prerequisite for success.”

Lillian Lechner, Professor of Health Psychology

So take a long breath. What more is needed?

“Many people are not specific enough about their goals. For example, ‘healthier life’ is too vague. The risk then is that you will do nothing. Or that you want to change everything in the area of ​​a healthy lifestyle at the same time. Not feasible. Hold it specifically. “

How do you set a specific goal?

“By first asking yourself what you want and why. Take ‘healthier life’. Do you want to lose weight? Are you doing it for better condition? Or because you want more energy? And also: Do ​​you want it yourself ? or do you do it because someone else says it? The intrinsic motivation to really want it from yourself is a prerequisite for success. “

“Be as specific as possible. For example: I go for a walk every evening after dinner. Or: I eat a piece of fruit instead of a snack during the week. Prepare yourself. Put this apple in your pocket and put yours.” Put planned walks on the agenda. This will reduce the chances of you falling back into your old pattern. “

of recent Swedish research shows that positive wording helps. What does that mean?

“Don’t say ‘eat less sweets’ but ‘eat more fruit’. Not ‘relax on the couch’ but ‘walk more’. Choose something that makes you happy and therefore suits you . The more concrete and pleasant your intention, the easier it will be to hold on to. “

How do you make sure you don’t fall into old habits?

“By protecting yourself from situations when things get difficult. A habit is an automatic reaction to a certain situation: a biscuit with tea, a bag of chips in front of the television. This connection is very strong. Think of an alternative. For example, replace your four-hour snack. You have already finished with a piece of fruit. “

“With an alternative, it’s easier to resist an old temptation. The more you do it, the more automatic it is. In the long run, you won’t have to think about it.”

DR. Lechner is Professor of Health Psychology at the Open University.