Wellness 2020: Why most New Year's resolutions will fail

New Year's resolutions

Another new year is almost here, and as it is every year, so many people—likely a good portion of your employees included—are high on hope, optimistic that this is finally the year when they’ll eat healthier, start exercising, quit smoking, etc. Of course, last year was the year too, but for so many people, it didn’t stick.

Most resolutions to get healthy are made with sincerity and conviction, but studies like this one show that shortly after the January 1st fanfare dies down, life goes back to normal for most people, and the optimism that blooms with the new year turns back into the reality of the daily grind. And in the daily grind people are worn down, too tired to exercise, too busy to cook a healthy dinner, too stressed to put down their cigarettes and forgo their evening wine.

The vision so many people have of reaching new personal pinnacles of health fade slowly, and somewhere around the beginning of February gyms are back to half-full, the fast-food drive-through lines are bustling, and you can almost hear the deflated masses whispering, “there’s always next year.”

The truth is that there is no magical “new year’s switch” that allows your employees to suddenly break unhealthy habits that they’ve repeatedly embedded into their brain’s neurocircuitry all year (and probably many previous years). Habits are habits, no matter the time of year, and some are harder to break than others.

So why are some unhealthy habits so difficult for your members or employees to change even though, in some cases, their lives depend on it? For instance, unhealthy eaters with high blood pressure or obesity know that a change in diet can help improve their numbers, yet many keep eating candy and drinking soda.

Two Types of Habit

All habits are formed through repetition. Some habits, like your route to and from work, serve a practical purpose. After going to work and then home every day for a while, you no longer need to think about where you’re going and how to get there. If you wanted to take a new route, it would just take a few days—a couple weeks, tops—before it would become the habit and you could drive it without having to concentrate, just like the previous route.

Some habits, however, are not so easy to break. Smoking, mindless eating, certain drinking patterns, or even the avoidance of exercise (yes, sedentary living is a habit) are a different and far more stubborn breed of habit.

These habits have deep emotional roots that link them with a strong need for comfort that is stored in the brain’s subconscious limbic system. When trying to change these habits, this part of the brain feels threatened so it sends out alarm signals—feelings of discomfort, stress and desire. These feelings produce cravings or urges that seemingly can only be satiated by the old behavior. In other words, this part of the brain actually perceives these desires as a need for survival.

For a short time (just following the new year, as an example) these cravings or urges can be resisted, but they grow stronger when the emotional driving force behind them is ignored, and in most cases they become so powerful that they eventually overwhelm the willpower. These habits have usually been practiced over years, and they have become so deeply ingrained that they have transformed themselves from mere habits into psychological addictions.

You see, your employees are not weak, nor are they stupid, or reckless, or lazy. They are simply unaware of the underlying brain function driving their behavioral and lifestyle issues. Many of your employees—probably even most of them—have one (or more) unhealthy behaviors they want to change. The problem is that they go about trying to do so without knowing how to be successful. They don’t understand the real problem (the deep emotional and psychological foundation of their unhealthy habits) and it’s nearly impossible to solve a problem when you don’t even understand it.

So how can you help your members understand and address the real problem so that next new year they won’t have to re-tackle the same issue?

How to Be a Hero

First, understand that for many people, developing permanent healthy lifestyles requires more than the meal apps, food trackers, nicotine gums, and other behavior modification techniques typically found in wellness programs. Permanently changing a lifestyle requires a cognitive-based solution that trains the brain to produce a healthy new trained cognitive response to substances and situations that trigger relapse. The key to truly helping your employees is to give them access to cognitive behavioral training programs that are specifically designed to address psychological dependencies.

SelfHelpWorks has programs that target the most common and destructive habitual behaviors, including LivingLean (food and eating), LivingFree (tobacco), and LivingSmart (alcohol). There are also programs designed to help with managing conditions, like LivingWell (diabetes management), LivingEasy (stress management and resilience), and LivingWellRested (sleep issues). All of these programs combine principles of cognitive behavioral therapy, health-coaching techniques, and our own proprietary cognitive behavioral training component to diminish—and eventually completely eliminate—the power of the urges. It is these urges that, left unaddressed, almost always lead back to the old behaviors and poor condition management.

The SelfHelpWorks programs are strategically designed to reveal and help replace the beliefs and thought patterns that keep people emotionally tied to their unhealthy behaviors. The programs are personal and highly interactive: participants watch short videos, take quizzes to drive the information home, and complete a wide range of assignments that involve introspection at times and practical application to the world around them at other times. By the end of a program, participants have changed their way of thinking and the psychological context surrounding the unwanted behavior, urges are no longer feared, and the old lifestyle is officially in the past.

Watch the quick 2-minute video at the top of this web page to see how hundreds of organizations are successfully using SelfHelpWorks to empower their employees, improve workforce health and productivity, and build a better bottom line.

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