How to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

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S1: So it’s been it’s been wet like three or four months since we talked.

S2: It has. How are the anxiety attacks?

S3: You know what? Something clicked in my head, Charles, that I wouldn’t have believed it would even be possible. But God’s honest truth.

S4: I have not experienced any anxiety attacks since I talked with you guys.

S5: This is how to I’m Charles Duhok.

S6: As we wrap up 2019 and look ahead to 2020, we wanted to do something a little bit different today. In the last year, we’ve brought you stories of people who want to change and advice from experts about how to make those changes happen.

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S7: And this week, we thought we’d check in with some of the listeners who have been on the show to see how the advice we gave them has held up. But we also have another goal. It’s New Year’s Eve. And so many of you are probably making New Year’s resolutions right now. And we wondered if all of our episodes taken together, if they might offer some lessons in how to make change happen. And some tips about making your resolutions stick into February and March and maybe all of 2020.

S8: For me, small increments are exciting because that’s that means that improvement is possible. You know, it’s like when they do, you know, sled racing, the most important part is breaking the sled from the ice. If you know that, you can make one step. That means you can make 100.

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S7: There’s a lot of research about New Year’s resolutions and about how to create resolutions that work when we endow our resolutions with a sense of ceremony. It seems to make them last longer. But what matters most is how we structure our New Year’s resolutions. And the first big rule is that resolutions like this year, I’m going to get into shape or or this year I’m going to save more money are much, much less effective than coming up with a specific plan. In fact, instead of thinking in terms of New Year’s resolutions, we’re better off thinking about a New Year’s plan of action. And the smaller and more specific that plan, the better. On today’s episode, we’ll look at how previous guests have put these plans into practice and more important. Here are the results. Stay with us.

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S1: We’re back with our special episode devoted to making your New Year’s resolutions stick and to start. Let’s turn to some people we met this year who were trying to change their lives.

S9: Hey, Jeff. Hey, how are you? Good. How are you? I’m doing very well.

S10: Remember Jeff in L.A.? He’s an aspiring actor who wants to someday star in his own superhero movie. And he’s got the charisma and the swagger to do it, but he does not quite look the part yet. And so a few months ago, we gave him a bunch of workout and lifestyle advice. And then we checked in again last week. OK, so here’s the big question. First question, how how’s your body looking, man?

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S11: It’s ridiculous. Sometimes I will pass the mirror and I catch my reflection and I back away in fear. It’s like it’s I don’t know. Yeah, look, good, man. I look a lot better than the last time we spoke. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, in part based on what we talked about. But also I star I’m a circus boy now. I go to the circus and I train in Ariel and handstands and acrobatics. Oh my gosh. Yeah, I know. I know. But it’s it was it was also an offshoot from from everything we spoke about, which was a diet. Exercise. You know, consistency.

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S12: So I’ve also been doing rock climbing as well, because I found that the ways I’m getting definition and the upper body development has just gone through the roof because of those things. Oh, my gosh. Healing me. Keeping your own body guessing.

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S10: You know, it’s a you it’s not just that you’re a play superhero. You you are like Spider-Man or Batman now.

S13: I’m sorry. I’m just waiting for a really close relatives to die in a horrendous accident. So I develop my meet some power. Once that happens, the transformation is complete and I will never go by the name Jeff any more. It will be a strong boy. And that’s what I’m going to keep it, boy, because I think that, you know, that makes me sound a little younger than I am strong. Boy, it’s gonna be a great outfit. Well, a lot of spandex, a lot of bright colors, gold lamé and tassels. Yeah, on the shoulders. On the shoulders. So it’s gonna be it’s gonna be great.

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S10: Our expert for this episode was a personal trainer named Don Saladino. And he’s best known for getting guys like Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds.

S1: Super buff for their superhero movies. And what Don told us is that the secret isn’t just consistent exercise. It’s also how you eat.

S14: Weight loss is really simple. It’s just about maintaining blood sugar levels. How do you mean? The reason why people crave junk is because they’re under nourishing themselves throughout the day.

S15: Your protein source should be roughly the size, your palm, your carb source could be like your fist and your fat source could be like almost like your your thumb. Oils or nuts, seeds, whatever it is.

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S14: If I had you eat more calories and I had you eat a balanced diet, you would go into the evening not craving the bread basket or the cookies or you wouldn’t be overeating passed or your blood sugar level would be maintained.

S1: Jeff’s been working on this, but it’s been a little hit or miss.

S16: So it’s easier to eat healthier when you’re feeling healthier.

S17: But I’m not going to lie and say that, you know, I didn’t eat Del Taco last night because I I mean, it felt good. I’m not gonna lie. I sat in my underwear in my bedroom and I felt it like a slob. But I was eating them off abs, which was nice, you know?

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S18: Right. Exactly. It’s still there. It’s still there. And what’s interesting is that like, again, with the research says, is that one of the ways to keep keep a change like this going, it’s important, is to recognize these baby steps right there in the scientific literature.

S19: It’s actually referred to as the science of small wins, that when you slide a small victory like like a little bit more definition in your arm or feeling a little bit more healthy, that it gets that much easier to actually do the next small thing until cumulatively you look amazing.

S1: Absolutely.

S19: And the way you make sure you notice these small victories is to celebrate them by giving yourself some kind of reward when you do that small thing that you intended to do, like like go to the gym three days in a row.

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S16: Look, the the reward system, which yourself and Don mentioned last time we spoke. That’s actually been built in. But as part of the workout, if that makes sense. So by booking myself into a circus class or going down to the rock climbing gym, I’m actually treating them like, oh, this is I’m going to do some exercise. Also, this is a fun day. Out is like an activity. You know, it doesn’t feel in any way mundane. It feels like a rewards actually want doing is rewarding myself with something that I’m going to love doing, but also continues to make me healthier.

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S1: You know, the other thing Don Saladino told us was that superheroes need a. Good night’s sleep. At least seven to nine hours every night.

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S15: If you’re not in that range for a long period of time, what’s going to happen is hormone levels are going to start plummeting. So T levels, cortisol levels, all these the stress hormone in the body, everything is going to start getting out of whack to burn fat energy levels, repair recovery. OK, so seven to nine. So seven to nine hours a night.

S14: When you wake up and you feel great, you want to do more.

S20: But what if you can’t fall asleep at all? That was our listener. Ben’s problem.

S21: I’ve had sleep problems for about most of my life. It’s like trying to push a balloon full of air under water and hold it there. And that’s the sense I get when I’m trying to fall asleep. You kind of wake up feeling like a broken pane of glass. You just feel kind of shattered and sort of out of it like you haven’t really close your eyes all night.

S20: Bennett tried just about everything, but nothing helped. And so we introduced him to Andy Pettitte, Koma, a former Buddhist monk who recommended beenThe try to meditate a little bit every day. He walked Ben, in fact, through a bedtime meditation to help him sleep.

S22: And as you’re doing, this is a very good chance that those from the day are going to arise in the mind. Again, we just see them and we just say, OK, for now, which is letting go, come back to the breath again. And so just by bringing the attention into the body, we start to ground the mind a little bit. Things start to slow down. And then what I like to do, if my mind is really very busy, is at this point just to start counting backwards from most people sometime during this process of counting down, slowly drift off to sleep.

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S1: We checked back in with Ben to see how his nights have been going since we got Andy’s advice. So tell me a little bit about what’s happened since we chatted about sleeping.

S23: It’s been really good. I mean, I got up at 6:30 this morning. I want you to to and I was completely awake for that class. And sleep has been more solid. I’ve been meditating before bed, not in the morning like Andy recommended. I’m gonna start doing that, too. But I’ve just been trying to be more mindful generally, like throughout the day, just kind of sort of taking, taking in, taking in the world and sort of like, you know, distracting myself with stuff and just sort of trying to keep my mind calmer generally, which is an easy thing to talk about. But it seems to help. I think it’s a meditation that it really helps us. Something is palpably different. But I have a feeling that I have a long way to go with it. But it’s definitely better.

S24: That’s great. That’s great. So tell me tell me about like last night in specifically like walk me through kind of what happened.

S25: Well, I did all my usual things like don’t eat dinner late and stop looking at screens by, you know, a good hour before and all the normal things. And then after I shower, I usually meditate for about 10 minutes, just show. And I get to this kind of state that I’ve noticed where I feel physically heavier, like my feet and hands kind of feel heavy. It’s kind of odd. I go and that’s when it seems to be like I feel like I’m done meditating and I can go to bed. And even if I feel restless in bed, for some reason, the quality of sleep is higher when I do that.

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S24: Wow. And did you wake up at all during the night last night?

S26: You know, I see once.

S24: OK, once. So this episode is a little bit to help people sort of think about New Year’s resolutions. And there’s actually a science or a New Year’s resolutions that it really shouldn’t be a resolution. It should be a specific plan. Right. That that instead of saying like, I want to sleep more, the right kind of resolution is to like have a plan for. Okay. You know, an hour beforehand, I’m going to do X and then 45 minutes soon. Do you feel like that’s been helpful for you having a plan as opposed to just kind of an ambition or a goal?

S25: Yes. Yeah. Because, um. Well, I had plans before, but now the plans are better. Okay. You know, there’s there’s better steps in the plan. But I definitely agree with that idea that people who are just trying to they just sort of want a thing and they just like, I’m going to go to the gym and kind of throw themselves at the gym without getting a personal trainer, without getting a diet, seeing a dietician or without doing all the little steps. I think for sure. You know, if you if you think Dolly Parton talked about, you know, if you want to be success in this world and you want to build your dream, you’ve got to build it kind of. Piece by piece before it becomes a real a real thing. And you’ve got to get into the nitty gritty and get a little messy.

S27: And that leads us to our Next List, Elizabeth, an American expat living in Portugal. We first spoke to her months and months ago and her dream was to one day return to America, but she was having a hard time figuring out that nitty gritty.

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S28: There are things that I love so much about Portugal and things that drive me so crazy about it. And something will happen.

S29: And I’ll just be like, I can’t serve this country. I want to go back to.

S28: Or that moment where you’re like, oh, my, can’t I love it here so much. I don’t want to ever leave.

S1: We introduced Elizabeth to any Duke, a professional poker player who says every decision we make is a bet.

S30: I think that we think of betting as very specifically confined to casinos. But all that a bet is, is a decision that’s informed by your beliefs about an uncertain future when and he says every decision is a bet.

S1: What she means is you’re betting on the odds of a future version of yourself.

S30: Whichever decision you make is a bet that the future. Charles. That you’re choosing is going to be better off and happier and and win against the future. Charles. That you’re not choosing.

S1: So nearly a year later, where is Elizabeth now?

S31: I am still in Portugal. But the search for jobs in the United States has become 100 percent. We are working to try to find jobs. I’m I’m applying for jobs. Taylor basis. So that’s my husband.

S32: I feel like the conversation we had lifted, the anxiety once I sort of put those odds thought about those odds at both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and made it clear to me that what I would prefer is to be said to work, to find a job that I’m happy with in the United States.

S19: Yeah. So so it sounds like you use Danny’s advice more internally with yourself to try and figure out what are the odds that you put on various futures and how do you pre-mortem your life and back cast your life in terms of staying in Portugal versus moving to the back to the U.S.?

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S33: Exactly. It just made it very clear to me.

S6: So Elizabeth hasn’t quite achieve your goal yet, which is totally fine. Not all advice works right away. Right.

S34: But she’s taking baby steps and a few more small wins and she’ll hopefully get there.

S6: And after a few small wins ourselves, we’re gonna take a quick break and then come back with a few more rules for how to choose some self improvement plans that will actually stick.

S34: You should stick around to.

S1: And the next rule for creating a New Year’s plan of action that actually works is kind of paradoxical because what you’re supposed to do is anticipate where you are going to fail and then figure out what you’ll do when that failure happens. Like take, for instance, Johnny, who you might remember as our lovelorn bachelor in Brooklyn. He desperately wanted to impress a date by cooking one perfect meal. And so we brought in Sam Sifton, the New York Times’s food editor.

S20: What’s the one thing Johnny can do that will blow her mind?

S35: The plates that he serves on, they’re gonna be 1 9 times out of 10 ex-boyfriends trying to impress their girlfriends, make their hot food and then put it on cold plates. It’s a little shivery. That’s just a bad luck that. And napkins. Napkins. Yeah. I mean, I can see in your eyes. Charles, you make me out. Allen, although you’re like Mr. Sensitive. But I’m telling you that a cloth napkin sends a message that you’re not a bad guy.

S36: Sam came up with an amazing menu for Johnny, which seemed fancy, but was actually pretty easy to pull off, at least easy enough for both him and me to do it together, for it looking.

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S37: And I can confirm that not only was it delicious. It was kind of full. Amazing.

S36: So has Johnny applied his newfound prowess in the kitchen to impressing a young lady?

S38: My roommate has been the biggest beneficiary of our episode. If I’m ever making it something, you know, I’ll make it for two. And he has been a welcome recipient.

S39: Like last night, we were just like watching Sunday Night Football and I got a craving for something. So I just whip something up quick, some avocado toast or some chicken sausage on it and like bang it out. And he was he was grateful and things like that.

S40: But that it really that that’s been my main.

S41: Okay. Yeah. So when we had talked to you, you were particularly hoping to figure out how you might impress some young ladies with a. Yeah. With your cooking. Have you ever cooked for any young ladies?

S42: I have not cooked for any young lady yet. No, that that’s definitely that’s definitely a New Year’s resolution. But first, I have to practice. I have to get my reps, then on my roommate and maybe relatives and then can maybe move on to later.

S18: OK. OK. And there was one particular young lady we spent a lot of time talking about. Your on your ex-girlfriend. Did did she hear the episode?

S42: She did hear the episode.

S40: And and she quite enjoyed it.

S42: She shared it with her friends and family after that. Things kind of mellowed out.

S18: Gotcha. So there is no there’s no reuniting with the ex over the power of a of a chicken thigh unfor-.

S40: Unfortunately not.

S24: But I’m sure there are other young women out there who will someday be overwhelmed joyously by your ability to use a rice maker and nutritious food that actually has been that huge for me.

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S42: Yeah. Sam Sifton said you just said forget it. I get so much use out of that. I am eternally grateful to you for that. That actually made a big difference.

S43: So Johnny has yet to achieve major change in the kitchen or in his dating life, but that’s OK. He’s taking those baby steps, anticipating his failures and still trying to get better. And all of this brings us to our last rule about creating the right kind of change for 2020.

S44: You should find some good advice and someone to change with you if you can, and then commit to it. When we started the show, we weren’t sure if simply exposing people to smart experts would actually make all that much of a difference. But then we started calling people in the last month to find out what had happened after they had been on how to. And we found that many of them had changed a lot.

S45: That change was particularly profound for folks like Matt from Texas, who is experiencing daily anxiety attacks, which he had been dealing with for years, since the death of his oldest daughter, McKenna, who had special needs. Hey, Matt.

S46: Charles. Hey, how are you, man? I’m doing fantastic.

S47: So glad to hear that things are coming along pretty well. That’s fantastic. So it’s been it’s been like three or four months since we talked. It has. So so tell me, how are the anxiety attacks?

S48: You know what? I wouldn’t I wouldn’t have believed that it would even be possible. But God’s honest truth. I have not experienced any anxiety attacks. Believe it or not, since I talked with you guys. And oh, my gosh.

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S49: And it’s so weird because something clicked in my head. Charles, I don’t know if it was you guys hearing it and then saying, Matt, that’s OK that you’re doing that because you’ve been through a lot. You know, that sort of like verification of of. Yeah, you’re in pain. It’s okay to just freak out. Whatever that was in my in my head, it clicked and I have. Been using the techniques that the doctor gave me. They’re on the phone with you.

S50: Emotions don’t wear a watch and emotions don’t know what time it is and your emotions over all of these things start coming out in these different ways. And one of the things that I would recommend very concretely is to actually I would shut off your phone like literally shut it off for periods of time during the day.

S1: Every time Matt’s phone buzzed it, it triggered this panic attack, since that’s how he used to hear bad news about his daughter. And so we introduced him to Dr. Ben Michaelis, a a clinical psychologist who gave him some simple techniques to try out when he felt his anxiety rising. And Matt says they’ve been working.

S3: I stand up when I when I feel a little bit of pressure, I’ll stand up, I’ll walk around. I’ll literally talk to myself and say, hey, this is just your body’s freaking out. Just relax. And for the longest time, I had to really consciously do that. And now when I feel a little bit of that coming back, or if I’m super busy or super stressed out, I have some really good coping mechanisms that have just been miraculous for us.

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S2: I’m slightly more active. Happy to hear that that.

S24: Yeah, that is such great news, Matt, because I know that this is weighing on you so much.

S3: Oh, man. I mean, I don’t have to to bring an extra shirt to work anymore.

S51: That’s that’s a pretty big one.

S3: You know, I don’t I don’t sit there and and sweat over and over again. Of course, my wife has been just so supportive through all this. If she didn’t want me stressing either and when she would see me start to spiral or. Once she figured out honestly, by really listening to the podcast a couple of times and us talking, she figured, hey. Sometimes I just need to send one text message and let it let it sit. And then when you get it, you’ll respond. And I know you’ll respond. And it really helped. And now, honestly, I don’t grab my phone and go, Oh, no. Yeah. Here goes. It’s really been it’s really been life changing, Charles.

S52: One thing that math’s story demonstrates is something psychologists have learned.

S43: There’s this temptation to believe that we ought to know how to change our own, that we should be able to figure out how to exercise more. Cook a perfect meal or fall asleep because after all, other people do this on their own all the time. So why can’t we? But what the research shows is that having someone to give us good advice, even if it’s just a podcast offering a weekly tips or a friend to talk things through with, it can make a huge difference.

S52: If nothing else. Sometimes just listening to another person describe their problems can help you reframe your own struggles in a new way, making it easier to see new solutions.

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S44: And Matt is putting that into practice with others.

S53: There’s a family with a child with special needs and medical needs.

S3: And essentially they called and said, teach us.

S49: They said, you know, we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re totally freaked out and we have no idea where to start. And the husband was in the mindset of just being very real with me, transparent with me. Hey, I’m going to get out of here like I can’t handle this. I can handle a sick kid. You know what we told him the couple was that it’s these times that you’re going to really grow. It’s not in the easy times that you grow as much. It’s the it’s a combat man. It’s the daily warfare that you hone your skills. And I just applied that, you know, to him, pay. You’re going to freak out. You’re you’re dealing with this this issue. It’s not going to go away tomorrow. So are you going to go away tomorrow? That doesn’t make any sense. And and honestly, he he broke down right there in front of in front of his wife and kids and apologized to them. And and we have to you know, we we talked every couple of days and we have developed this.

S54: Kind of unique relationship where we can be completely honest with each other. And I think that’s something I took away from you guys, Charles, but just being honest.

S55: Yeah, and I’m sure you’re making a huge difference in his life by being there and being available for him.

S56: That’s it, man. I mean, I. I told you guys, I really want to help. And I mean, I like I said, I was a pastor for ten years. I mean, I spent 10 years investing in people. But to have some people invest in me back was very life-giving.

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S57: Matt’s story is so gratifying to hear it in part because it sort of shows how much people can change and that to make our plans really stick. It’s so helpful to share them with another person. Study after study has shown that when people try to create new habits, if they do so in a group, even if the group is as small as two people, it can make a huge difference.

S1: So as you think about 2020, you should think about finding a workout buddy or someone to cook with you, or maybe even a podcast listening group.

S58: Thank you to all of our listeners who’ve shared their stories with us this past year and especially those who gave us updates on how things are going. And most of all, thank you to you, our listeners, for making the show happen and for supporting us with your comments and your reviews and our very best wishes and making all your hopeful changes become reality in 2020. With the new year comes new problems.

S27: And so we want to hear from you. Send us a note at how to add slate.com.

S58: And we might be able to help. How TOS executive producer is Derek John, Rachel Allen is our production assistant in marriage. Jacob is our engineer. Our theme music is by Hani’s Brown. June Thomas is the senior managing producer Slate Podcasts, and Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for Audio. Special thanks to ushe soldier and Sung Park. I’m Charles Duhigg. Thanks for listening. And Happy New Year.