Congratulations on surviving the holidays! Now it’s time to kid yourself that you’ll make spectacular changes to your life for the New Year. Lose weight! Get fit! Learn Chinese! Write a novel! Yeah, right… In this post we’ll have a look at where we go wrong and how we can choose resolutions that’ll stick.
It’s a sad fact that most people fail to follow through on their New Year Resolutions. Richard Wiseman’s Resolution Experiment discovered that a massive 88% failed to achieve their goal. There can be many reasons for this failure:
- You try to do too much or make too many changes at once
- Your heart isn’t really in it and you flake out
- You feel like you’re forcing yourself to be good and end up rebelling
- Your aims are too vague or not specific enough so you can’t see what you’re aiming for or how to measure your success
- You miss a day or two and then can’t get going again, so you give up
- You’re already too busy so find it hard to fit the new change into your life
- Other stuff gets in the way, like a sudden crisis or illness
- Negative thinking convinces you to give up
- You get distracted by shiny things, like the internet
Resolution v Intention
The problem begins with choosing the right resolution. Most people fail because they’re trying to do the wrong things, or perhaps they’re doing the right things but for the wrong reasons. It seems to be less about willpower and self-discipline, and more about intention and doing things that matter to you. To make your resolutions stick you have to want to change.
If you start to exercise because other people seem to think it’s a good idea, you won’t have the motivation to keep at it. So first of all, you need to clarify exactly what you want to achieve. Get in touch with how you feel and have an honest look at your life. Then ask yourself how you want to feel.
For example, if looking at your round belly makes you feel depressed and you really want to do something about it, you can set an intention to lose the flab. Better still, you can set an intention to build a more healthy relationship with your body. Focus on how that would make you feel – energised, flexible, etc. – and this positive feeling will feed into your intention and motivate you to get off the sofa and stop eating so many pies.
This will still require discipline, but the idea is to put your heart into your resolutions. Your goal has to be something you really need to do, rather than something you feel you should do. Your goals need to reflect soul-deep desires. This gives them more emotional heft because it backs them up with real purpose.
The truth about willpower
Sometimes people give up on their resolutions before they even try, saying things like, “Well, I have no willpower, so what’s the point?” This is just an excuse.
The truth is: you can train yourself to have more willpower. However, you do tend to have a limited amount, so you have to be careful. Willpower is a valuable resource. If you try to make too many changes at once, you’ll use up your store of self-discipline and this will make it harder to stick to your resolutions. The more you try to ‘be good’, the more likely it is that you’ll fall off the wagon and go on a huge debauched rampage.
The key is to start small and build up. Each time you do something that requires even a little self-discipline, it creates a precedent. In psychological terms, it tells you that, yes, you are a person who can decide to do something and then do it. Simple goals are easy to do, so start with those – like eating more vegetables. More complex goals, like writing a novel, will have to be broken down into smaller steps otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed.
The idea is to build your resolution into your daily routine so it becomes a new habit. Some say you can do this in a matter of weeks, while others claim it takes at least 66 days for a habit to take hold. It depends on how complex the change is and how easy you find the change to make. In the end, if you stick to your resolution, it will become the new normal and you won’t even think twice about doing it.
Ten Tips for achieving your New Year Resolutions
1. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Treat yourself with kindness and don’t expect too much. You don’t have to do it all.
2. To overcome inertia, be honest when you’re just being lazy and flaking out. Learn to see the bad days as temporary set-backs. Tomorrow is a whole new day.
3. Replace the stuff you’re giving up with something positive. This means you’re saying yes to something good, rather than no, and it will stop you feeling like you’re depriving yourself.
4. Focus on one change at a time and do it gradually. Be specific and work through the changes in stages that build to a measurable goal.
5. Accountability helps to keep you on track. Make a strong commitment to your resolution and tell others what you’re planning. You could find a resolution buddy, or join others doing the same thing.
6. Build the change into your existing routine, and link it with something you already do to act as a reminder. Put post-its up where you’ll see them or use reminders on your phone and/or computer.
7. Remove or avoid distractions and temptations, for example: don’t buy cake if you’re trying to lose weight. De-clutter your life, simplify and focus on what’s important. You’re probably way too busy anyway, so take this as an opportunity to step back and get rid of whatever you no longer need.
8. When negative thoughts arise – and they always do – don’t give in to them. Use positive affirmations to counter negativity, and when all else fails, simply tell that whiny voice to shut the hell up.
9. If you’re tempted to fall off the wagon, stop and imagine what will happen if you do. Think through the consequences of failure in the long run and ask yourself if that’s what you really want.
10. Whatever you’re doing, pay attention. Be more mindful and focused on the present moment. True satisfaction and happiness can only be found in the here and now, not in some distant goal.
To finish, here’s some great tips from Zen Habits on how to Create the New Normal
Image: Dart it up