Stop setting yourself up to fail - why your New Years Resolutions are failing YOU.
Whoever came up with the idea of a New Year's Resolution is an evil genius. Seriously, think about it. Someone decided that the best time of the year to make life changing decisions was at the bleakest time of year. Christmas is over, it’s a long time until summer and it’s dark almost all the time. So why is this the moment we should decide to fundamentally change ourselves? A study done at the University of Scranton showed that only 10% of resolutions set at New Year are followed through. I almost always find myself in the 90% of people who have dropped their resolutions by mid-February, and by the summer I often can’t even remember what they were to begin with. Yet I always want to set them.
There’s something there isn’t there? Something about that hope; hope we can be better, that we can improve ourselves. I’m a big fan of transformation, but transformation is a life long journey. It shouldn’t hinge on something you decide hungover on 1st January once a year. So how can we make goals that result in effective change? How do we get ourselves from the 90% to the 10%? Below are three key thoughts about how to make your goals effective and achievable.
Often our New Year's resolutions are lofty goals and kind of abstract. ‘I’m going to lose weight!’, ‘I’m going to get fitter!’. These are what I would call ‘big picture goals’. By week three the motivation is dwindling. We’ve started another diet and it sucks, or we’ve attempted to run 10K a day even though we haven’t run in years. We are miserable and overwhelmed. Is it really worth it?
In order to avoid overwhelm this time round, break down those big picture goals into small actions, then attach these small actions to things you already do. If your goal is to get fitter, set your goal to walk a little further every day, likely you already walk! Over time that small action can grow and evolve into that 10K run which currently seems impossible. Everytime we add a small action to our day to day life we shift our behaviours and habits. You don’t have to have the whole journey planned out, just know what you want to change this week and go from there.
If you are working on breaking habits, say eating better, let me tell you about conditional responses. Conditional responses are how we respond to stimuli and stimulus is all around us. For example if you always eat the whole pack of biscuits once they are opened that is a conditioned response. Even if you know that eating a packet of biscuits is not healthy the idea of not eating them all is unimaginable. You have unwittingly conditioned yourself to do this. The great thing about conditioned responses is we can make new ones. It’s that simple, even if it’s not as easy in practice. As with behaviour change, start small. This is of course easier said than done, your habit is a ritual, something you are emotionally attached to, be mindful of the reason why you want to break this attachment and form new ones.
Change your Story:
Tim Wilson, in his amazing book ‘Redirect,’ talks about exiting your old story so you can start your new one. He is looking at how our patterns of thinking and talking to ourselves have a direct affect on how we see ourselves. If we stick with the idea of the packet of biscuits this is what the ending of that story might look like:
I used to eat biscuits with my tea, I couldn’t just have one, before I knew it I had eaten a whole packet.’
This narrative is telling yourself that you always eat the packet so that’s what you will do. You always have so you always will.
If you are rewriting this narrative you may say something like,
‘I no longer eat the whole packet of biscuits, I know that this was a bad habit and I broke it because my health is important to me. Eating a whole packet of biscuits would be damaging.’
Ending the ‘old’ ways of talking to yourself and beginning new ones can have a huge impact on how you see yourself progressing towards your goals.
Finally I would suggest you set yourself a final resolution, to never set yourself a resolution again. Resolutions are rigid and unmoving, they don’t allow your goals to develop with you over time as you move forward. They are not fit for purpose. Instead I propose you set yourself intentions. An intention is about aligning your actions with your beliefs. So if your intention is to be someone who takes their well being seriously then your actions will follow. It is a kinder way to be with yourself, and we could all do with more kindness in this world.
Remember, whatever you are going through you aren’t alone.