A better diet, more exercise, ditching those bad habits… We’ve all made New Year Resolutions, only to see them fade away by February (or earlier). So here are some handy tips to help you stick with it and actually see things through this year.
As well as celebration, the advent of a new year has always been a time for reflection. An opportunity to reframe our lives and strive for personal growth by drawing a line in the sand and resolving to be better in the year to come.
Unfortunately, however empowering or heartfelt they may be at the time, research (and possibly intuition and experience) suggests that we are unlikely to actually keep any New Year Resolutions we make.
This is no great revelation, granted. Even way back in 1988 one study found that although 77% of those monitored were successful in sticking to their guns for a week, only 19% subsequently carried things through for the next 2 years.1 So why do we so consistently fail? And what can we do to improve our chances of success?
Pleasure junkies and habit formers
To answer the first of those questions, it seems that our own brains are stacking the odds against us. Any activity that is pleasing to us - and therefore likely to be repeated – releases a hit of the feelgood neurochemical dopamine into our system.2 The result? We keep on coming back for more, no matter the potential harmful consequences.
That’s cigarettes, chocolate and cake explained, then. But what about our inability to stick to exercise goals, for example? Sadly, the answer there may lie in our lack of both commitment and imagination.
In fact, one recent Australian study found that 74% of participants listed their most important New Year Resolution as the same, or nearly the same, as in the previous year, and focused on either diet or exercise. And also that around two thirds of participants admitted to giving up on those goals within a month.3
All of which would seem to suggest that if we really want to set ourselves up for success, we need to consider a fresh approach.
New Year, new you?
None of us specifically sets out to fail when it comes to New Year Resolutions. So, if you’re determined to break the cycle this year, here are some of our top tips to help you see things through and achieve your new you, whatever it may be:
1) Be realistic
The surest way to fall short of the goal(s) you set yourself is to make your choice unattainable. For example, forcing yourself to run 10kms a day when you haven’t laced up a pair of track shoes in years, or vowing never to eat your favourite food again. So try to be realistic and keep your aims within reach.
2) Make it manageable
Little regular victories are much better than biting off more than you can chew. For instance, if you want to get fitter, commit to half an hour of exercise a day. Or if you’d like to write a book, then set aside time when you know you’ll have some peace and quiet – and focus on time spent rather than word count. Some days will be more productive than others, and that’s okay. But regularity is key.
3) Make it ‘you’
What’s a more potent goal? Losing 5 kilos? Or losing 5 kilos so you can fit into your favourite jeans again? The truth is you’re much more likely to succeed in doing something if it means something to you. Caring keeps you motivated. So try to tie your goals into who you are as a person. That way you’ll be more invested.
4) Try something new
Variety is the spice of life, so they say. So try to come up with something new this year, something not associated with previous failures. And even if you are recycling resolutions you haven’t managed to achieve in the past, try to change things up this time. A different type of exercise, perhaps, a different diet, or maybe even something more leftfield.
5) Link to an existing habit
Another good way to set the tone and adopt your resolution as a regular habit is to link it to something you do already. For example, if you like reading but feel the need to exercise more (or vice versa), why not kill two birds with one stone and listen to an audio book while you go for a walk. A slight behavioural change is all it takes.
6) Make it official
If you’re going to do something, tackle it like you mean it. Maybe track your progress as you go - keep a record and you automatically make yourself accountable for the results. Better still, share your goals with a friend and they can help to encourage you on the journey – or give you a gentle nudge if you’re not living up to expectations!
7) Be kind to yourself
Remember too that sticking to your goals can be fun, and the only promise you’ve really made is to yourself. So if you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up about it – give yourself a break. Similarly, reward yourself for good behaviour or hitting a target. That treat will taste even sweeter when you know you’ve earned it.
8) Don’t give up!
Even if you do find yourself drifting away from your initial goals, so what? You still want to do it, right? So get back on the horse and try again. Perseverance is crucial to achieving any goal – just ask Thomas Edison – and if you want it badly enough, you’ll get there.
These are just some rough suggestions for approaching your resolutions this year. We’ll leave the specifics to you. But hopefully they’ll offer up some food for thought after you’ve indulged over the festive season – and help to make 2022 a happier, healthier and more resolute year all round.