Leaning against parking meter outside the Hall building, a student, looking to be in his early 20s, withdrew a battered cigarette pack from his messenger bag. Inside were two cigarettes. As he lit one with the lighter pulled from his jacket pocket he mumbled to a friend who was already smoking “So much for quitting this year.” The pair laughed.
It starts gradually: one missed aerobics workout, an extra drink on a night out or a cigarette after a stressful class. Then, before we know it we find ourselves back to our old habits, and promising ourselves that next week, no next month, okay maybe next year we will change.
Unfortunately, unless we first understand motivation and change the type and frequency of the goals we are setting, most of us are unlikely to ever make good on our resolutions.
SH: The origins of motivation
Sure, Jan. 1 seems as good a time as any to make some resolutions, but have you ever stopped to think why that is?
We do so because the media, which has socialized us in many ways, promotes it, explains Lois Baron, an education professor at Concordia University who specializes in educational psychology and physical well-being.
Despite this, Baron still thinks making resolutions or setting goals is a positive thing but problems arise when the goals we make are unrealistic and when we only set them once a year.
“We should be setting goals for our behaviors all the time and should re-visit and re-evaluate them frequently so that they are attainable,” she wrote in an email. “One should not set themselves up for failure, but rather for success.
Stages of change
Even re-visited and re-evaluated goals will be hard to keep, according Sylvia Kairouz, a sociology and anthropology professor and the director of the Concordia’s Lifestyle and Addiction research laboratory. She says this is because people cannot go in opposition of who they are. “Sometimes [people] are tempted and optimistic but are not ready to make changes.”
This can be explained by looking at the stages of change or the Transtheoretical Model, which Kairouz and Baron both use to explain why changing one’s behaviour is anything but easy.
“You have to keep in mind that [the model of change] has been studied for so many years and it explains how intentions are one thing but real actions and getting to the goal is another thing,” says Kairouz.
Baron studies the relationships between psychological mediators, levels of motivation and physical activity behaviour. Her current project is centered determining what factors motivate individuals to be physically active in different contexts.
The first phase, she identifies as pre-contemplation. This is when the individual acknowledges that they have to change their behaviour. Then comes the contemplation stage where the individual says to themselves “I could lose a number of pounds.” After that is the preparation phase when a person will take introductory steps to make that change happen, like joining a gym.
This is followed by the action stage, which Baron says is the point when a person says “I am working on tracking what I eat each day as a way of monitoring my food intake.” It is also the point when Kairouz says the negative consequences of not keeping up with your resolution outweigh the positive aspects of the habit.
The final step, which Baron describes as being the hardest, is maintenance. The stage when you maintain behaviours adopted in the action stage.
Unfortunately, there is another possible ending and that is the relapse stage, the point when you may return to old habits.
So in order to avoid a relapse, here are some tips and tricks to help make you successful and keep you motivated when it comes to hitting the gym, quitting smoking or drinking less.
SH: Accomplishing your resolutions
Setting obtainable goals
“Setting goals is good if one has a realistic expectation as to how to meet these goals,” writes Baron. “Unfortunately, resolutions are often what we call long-term goals and therefore may be unattainable to some, thus frustrating them.”
She uses the example of weight loss and explains that it is much harder to meet a resolution or goal to lose 50 pounds then it is to set a short-term goal of losing five pounds over a month.
This uses what Baron identifies as SMART goals: specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely.
Though effective, SMART goals require an individual to follow several steps, which can be a deterrent to some. Kairouz says one easy way to increase your success is to not be so broad when making resolutions.
“Do not simply say “I will drink less’,” she says. “You need to be clear and concrete.”
One way she advises doing this is by making substeps, which are very good at targeting daily habits. She uses the example of a night out drinking with friends where it my be ideal to tell yourself that tonight you will not drink at all, it is much more effective to instead say that rather than having a typical night of five drinks, tonight I will drink only four.
Adding incentives to your workout
When it comes to losing weight and getting in shape, Antony Karelis has several suggestions to make working out a little more desirable.
One of the ways to increase your daily exercise, says the professor at UQAM in the department of kinesiology, is by using a heart-rate monitor or pedometer. These tools he says are proven to keep people motivated both during a work-out session and throughout a day. While heart-rate monitors range in price from $50 to over $100, pedometers often sell for under $20. According to a 2007 review by the American Medical Association entitled Using Pedometers to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health, people wearing pedometers use nearly 2,500 more steps in a day.
Having workouts that are supervised, says Karelis, is another way to improve motivation. It also tends to increase the frequency of a workout and the length and intensity of each session. While personal trainers can be expensive, most gyms offer one or two sessions free when you sign up for a membership. Concordia’s Le Gym also offers personal training session for $25 and hour, cheaper than many gyms.
Finding cheap and simple solutions
If you are short on cash or just not interested in exercising, Karelis has one very cheap solution to improving your activity level in a day. “Just stand up,” he says. “Whether waiting in line at the bank or on the metro, standing up burns calories.”
Baron advises students to use a calendar to help manage your time and accomplish goals. “List all the activities, assignments, deadlines, social events, etc., and work out a schedule of how you plan to meet these deadlines,” she explains. “Ensure that you add some time for physical activity as it reduces stress and helps keep you energized in those busy times of the term.”
Another very affordable option is having a buddy, something that can really improve motivation, explains Baron. It also helps battle one of the biggest resolution determinants, which is according to Kairouz is the social aspect. External and environmental factors she says are a trigger. Having a buddy with likeminded goals help keep you social while working towards improvement.
In order to avoid the relapse stage described by Baron earlier, Kairouz turns to the advice of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. “Take it 24 hours at a time,” she says. “Make those resolutions for that length objective and move forward one day at the time.”
Rewarding your results
One of the biggest motivators for individuals is when they begin to see results, which will happen sooner for the more short-term goals. For some it may be losing a few pounds while others will see it in the extra cash they have because they are smoking and drinking less.
No matter the size, accomplishing any of your goals is worth celebrating, writes Baron.
“Just reward yourself when you meet those short-term goals. While that may sound rather behavioral in principle, it works. In time, your behaviors will change. Be patient!”
Utilizing outside help
While we would like to think we are capable of accomplishing all of our resolutions on our own, many of us require outside help.
“If you are a heavy smoker, it is not a good idea to say on Jan. 1, I will not smoke anymore. This is unrealistic because smoking is a real addiction,” says Kairouz. She suggests smokers look to pharmaceutical aids or take advantage of the free resources available.
According to Karelis, finding outside help is also important because the media spams the population with so much information it comes very hard to know how to handle things such as weight loss and substance abuse.
One thing both Kairouz and Karelis agree on is that individuals should talk to a healthcare professionals or specialist whether this be a pharmacist, doctor, kineoseologist or nutritionist. These individuals are equipped to help you.