Come this January, about 40% of all North Americans will vow to change one thing or another about their lifestyle.
New Year’s resolutions are typically based on improving an aspect of your life, and usually fall under the following categories:
- Weight loss
- Personal development
- Health and diet
- Stress management
- Focusing on personal relationships
Fast forward 6 months later, 60% or more will have completely forgotten all about their resolutions.
Why Is It So Hard To Keep New Year’s Resolutions?
The main reason why New Year’s Resolutions fail is simply because people either make too many resolutions at one time, or they make ones that are insurmountable. The majority of people are extremely busy and if you suddenly add a long list of resolutions into the mix, you are doomed before you even start.
Here are some other reasons why it can be difficult to maintain New Year’s resolutions:
- Discontinuity effect. According to research by professor of social psychology at the University of Bath, Bas Verplanken, “habits can be changed when you change the factors around the habit,” such as location or context. They call this the “discontinuity effect.” New Year’s Eve is not an actual change in circumstances, which means it isn’t motivation enough to change any habits.
- Distraction created by past rewards. Research by Johns Hopkins University neuroscientists shows our brains get a surge of dopamine just by seeing things associated with past rewards. In other words, your brain is wired to pay more attention to things that have given you pleasure in the past hoping to get that same pleasure again. That’s why you might find it hard to stop thinking about pizza while trying to eat steamed veggies.
- Vague or unrealistic resolutions. Let’s face it – the easier your resolutions are, the more likely you’ll be to keep them for a whole year. For example, if you hate running, don’t make it a resolution to go out for a run every day just because you think it’s healthy.
But carrying out your resolutions can be done. Here are 5 suggestions to help you:
1. Define your Motivation
There are 2 types of motivation:
- Intrinsic – this means your motivation comes from inside. For example, you prefer jogging, going to the gym, or shopping by yourself because you like how you feel afterwards.
- Extrinsic – you’re pushed forward by actions outside your personal scope. In other words, you prefer working out with your friends, and work harder when there’s a reward system in place.
Once you figure out your motivation type is, then all you have to do is put yourself in situations that make you more excited to accomplish even more.
2. Actions speak louder than results
Deciding on a goal for the New Year is always easier said than done. However, it’s the steps you take to reach that goal that’s the tricky part. If you want to stick to your resolutions, it’s wise to break each step down into smaller goals, if possible, to make them more manageable.
Moreover, each time you achieve one, reward yourself and feel proud of what you’ve accomplished. Positive reinforcement is crucial to help guide you as you push toward your goal and commit to your responsibilities.
One way to keep everything in check is to make sure your actions are SMART:
- Specific. Having a specific end result prevents you from making excuses. When you set yourself a specific goal you can set your efforts on achieving it by using resources, tools and tactics to get you there. Each step or action you take will be well thought out, creating a solid plan of action for you.
- Measurable. Evaluating your progress will give your motivation a boost. By measuring your goals, you will see those things that are working for you and simply do more of it.
- Achievable/Attainable. You can set daily goals as a building block to bigger goals. While you want to set attainable and achievable goals, don’t make them so easy that you can reach them with your eyes shut. Your goals need to make you work harder so that you become a stronger person.
- Relevant. Otherwise, if it’s not relevant, why bother? If your goals are relevant to you personally you will be excited by the prospect of reaching them.
- Time-bound. Goals need to have a defined end date, this will create a sense of urgency and a need to meet the deadline.
“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”– Albert Einstein
3. Be Honest with yourself
The more realistic your resolutions, the more likely you’ll see them through. If your goal for the New Year is to exercise more, then start small. Instead of planning a 5-day workout week, go for 10 minutes three times a week then increase gradually.
You’ll find that, as with all goals, as soon as you start seeing what you’ve accomplished, you’ll be pumped to do even more. However, it’s crucial that you stay away from the “all-or-nothing” approach. Doing something, even if it’s a small piece of what you’d originally planned, is much better and more productive than doing nothing at all.
Moreover, it’s equally important to not have too many resolutions up in the air at once. Make a list, prioritize them, and go from there. Once you feel the first one’s in the bag, go for the second, and so on. Focusing on one goal at a time will channel your energy and efforts there, helping you reach your target faster.
4. Think things through
Having a positive mindset is key when progressing towards your goals, but let’s be honest; every plan is bound for failure if you’re careful. Be smart and anticipate these obstacles so that when they do appear, you’ll be prepared.
For example, if you get bored when you exercise, choose upbeat workout music that’ll get you revved up, or get caught up on your favourite podcast episodes. Or you can workout at home, as you catch up on your favorite TV shows. If your motivation method is extrinsic, go to the gym with a friend.
The idea is to nip obstacles in the bud before they becomes stronger than your willpower so that you can surmount any obstacle that comes between you and your goal.
5. Be accountable for your actions
Accountability means you’re taking responsibility for the choices you’re making. This may seem easy to do at work when you have a deadline and a boss reinforcing it. It may not seem as easy when you’re home alone and skip out on cooking a healthy meal, and order take-out instead.
Declaring your intentions to at least one person is a great way to become accountable. Tell a friend or family member about your new goals and what your plans are for the coming year to achieve those goals.
You can also use social media or join a support group where you’d know that you made a certain commitment to someone, if it’s simply sending a photo of your home-cooked meal on social media. You may also find that once you have stated your goals, others will be willing to join you on your journey.
Remember too that you are the only one who can truly hold yourself accountability. So there is no point in cheating or lying. You will only end up hurting yourself in the end.
If you see that your goal is going off course then look for the reasons why. Try to discover what the problem is. It could be something that you are doing and if so ask yourself how you can do it differently.
Be willing to accept responsibility and to be accountable for your actions. When you do you will have become a much stronger person.
Keeping your New Year’s resolution can seem scary at first. However, with these 5 steps, you can do anything you put your mind to. Moreover, once you accomplish your first resolution, you’ll find that it’s not only beneficial, it’s fun as well!
Remember as well to focus on the journey, not just the desired destination. The path toward change is not usually a direct one, and there are usually many opportunities for growth and learning along the way – if you’re willing to pay attention!
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”– Ernest Hemingway
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