Q: I want to start the new year off on a great foot. Any recommendations?
After a busy and perhaps (overly) indulgent holiday season, radical change might feel like the answer. Before you embark on a period of punishing deprivation, consider a former patient of mine who lost more than 10 pounds after going on a green-juice diet for the first two weeks of January. She was thrilled about the weight loss but ravenously hungry and in a terrible mood the entire time. A few weeks later, she had regained all the weight … and then some. Cast in a broader framework, it’s a metaphor for what so many of us experience when we try to make a long-term change. In the short term, it’s easy. In the long term, not so much.
Crash diets aside, how can you make behavioral changes that help you start the year on the right track and that are also sustainable? Psychologists Barbara Fredrickson and Michael Cohn explored this question by following a group that had participated in a short-term study on the benefits of meditation. In the initial seven-week study, regular meditation was shown to increase feelings of love, hope, gratitude, and sense of purpose for pretty much everyone. Then Cohn and Fredrickson followed up 15 months later. A number of participants continued to meditate and reported feeling better as a result, but others had stopped. What made the difference? According to their findings, those who enjoyed meditating early on in the study were more likely to be meditating one year later. The findings suggest that the trick to long-term behavior change is that you must connect with it. For anything to stick, there must be interest in the first place. So instead of fixing a flaw, consider doing more of something that comes naturally and that you enjoy. If you love art, make a resolution to visit a gallery or museum once a week. If you like reading, join a book club.
Whatever change you want to make or skill you hope to master, begin with something that feels right. Enthusiasm is the gatekeeper of endurance.
Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York and the the founder of positivepercription.com.
A version of this story appeared in the Holiday 2018 issue of Marie Claire.
Marie Claire Newsletter
Celebrity news, beauty, fashion advice, and fascinating features, delivered straight to your inbox!
Sofia Richie Grainge's Favorite Foundation is On Sale Right Now at Sephora
There's no better time to try them than now.
By Brooke Knappenberger
Makeup Brush Sets for Creating the Perfect Looks
Options for makeup experts and beginners alike.
By Gabrielle Ulubay
Meg Bellamy of ‘The Crown’ Was Nervous to Recreate Kate Middleton’s Iconic Charity Fashion Show Walk
“I would love her to think fondly of it.”
By Rachel Burchfield
Senator Klobuchar: "Early Detection Saves Lives. It Saved Mine"
Senator and breast cancer survivor Amy Klobuchar is encouraging women not to put off preventative care any longer.
By Senator Amy Klobuchar
How Being a Plus-Size Nude Model Made Me Finally Love My Body
I'm plus size, but after I decided to pose nude for photos, I suddenly felt more body positive.
By Kelly Burch
I'm an Egg Donor. Why Was It So Difficult for Me to Tell People That?
Much like abortion, surrogacy, and IVF, becoming an egg donor was a reproductive choice that felt unfit for society’s standards of womanhood.
By Lauryn Chamberlain
The 20 Best Probiotics to Keep Your Gut in Check
Gut health = wealth.
By Julia Marzovilla
Simone Biles Is Out of the Team Final at the Tokyo Olympics
She withdrew from the event due to a medical issue, according to USA Gymnastics.
By Rachel Epstein
The Truth About Thigh Gaps
We're going to need you to stop right there.
By Kenny Thapoung
3 Women On What It’s Like Living With An “Invisible” Condition
Despite having no outward signs, they can be brutal on the body and the mind. Here’s how each woman deals with having illnesses others often don’t understand.
By Emily Shiffer
The High Price of Living With Chronic Pain
Three women open up about how their conditions impact their bodies—and their wallets.
By Alice Oglethorpe