Health Watch - Keeping Your Resolutions

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

How many of your New Year's resolutions have you already broken?

If you're like most of us, those resolutions you were so enthusiastic about a few weeks ago have already gone by the wayside. But doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say there is a way to make it easier to make your resolutions last all year long - or to become a lifetime habit.

Just use your body's own mechanisms.

Dr. David Self, a UT Southwestern psychiatrist, says the key to keeping resolutions is to stick with the new behavior long enough for it to become a habit. Your body likes routines. In fact, it's wired to form habits out of conscious behaviors. There's a chemical in the brain called dopamine that works to control reinforced behavior. That's what forms a habit.

When you make a decision to do something on a regular basis - like making a resolution to exercise every day - and then do that thing every day for about a month, the chemicals in your brain will make a habit out of that new behavior. Then it's much easier to keep doing it because your body wants to do it. Make a habit out of exercising daily, and after a while, your body will crave its exercise fix.

The problem with most of our resolutions is that we don't stick to them long enough for them to become a habit. That's also why resolutions to stop doing bad things - like smoking or eating late-night snacks - are hard to keep. It can be very difficult to break a habit once it's become ingrained.