Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Or do you think you could benefit from deciding to change something in your life?
New Year Resolutions
Many people choose the New Year as a reason to set themselves a goal. Research shows that 2/3 of adults have made a New Year Resolution. Although only about a quarter of adults actually made a resolution last year. Maybe that’s because so few of us actually stick to the resolution and see it through – about one in eight succeeded.
The goal is usually something quite significant in their lives:
- To lose weight and get back to the weight they were years ago, when they felt good about themselves.
- To learn a new skill, so they can master something new in their lives.
- To live more healthily and give up a bad habit – like smoking or drinking.
- To improve the quality of their life – like getting home earlier from work and spending time with the family.
- Or simply to be more … tolerant / relaxed / persistent / compassionate / humble …
Why wait for Jan 1 to make such important decisions?
Many people spend years unhappy, because things aren’t like they want them to be. Yet somehow think they can’t do anything about it. They often feel they have no choice and have to keep doing what they’ve been doing, even though it doesn’t give them the results they want. Wasn’t that Einstein’s definition of insanity? I bet lots of us have something in our lives which fits that bill …. Maybe we’re all a little bit insane!
At the same time they have fantasies of being slim, able to dance like a winner of ‘Strictly’, full of energy and compassion. Fantasies, not dreams, as they don’t connect these visions with actions they could take to achieve what they want.
What separates achievers from the average is action!
There are those who start the New Year full of good intentions to achieve their resolution and they work at it for a few days or maybe weeks. But when they find the going tough and their willpower is low, they succumb and do the one thing they want to stop.
Now it’s no big deal to succumb once and then get back on track, but what’s interesting is how many people use the transgression as an excuse to give up altogether. “I ate that cake, so that’s the end of my diet!” “I missed a couple of lessons, so I can’t go back now.”
Research from University of Scranton shows that 25% have given up before the first week is out and nearly 40% have given up by the end of the first month. Why?
Willpower is like a muscle
Many people claim they haven’t the willpower to see it through. So what do we know about willpower and how could you improve your chances of achieving your goals?
Neuroscience has found that willpower resides in the Pre-frontal Cortex, which is the part we use for cognitive thinking such as problem-solving and decision-making. This brain activity takes up significantly more energy that the things we do on auto-pilot. Research by Roy Baumeister found that willpower depletes as our energy resources are depleted. It is decision-making that depletes willpower. So when we are tired and hungry we have little willpower and find it hard to make decisions.
We have also discovered that willpower is like a muscle. The more you exercise it the stronger it becomes and uses less energy. If you don’t use your willpower it becomes weaker. So it is a good idea to regularly exercise willpower in little ways every day.
Tips to help you achieve your goals
I’d like to combine these two findings and recommend some tactics to help you stick to your resolution and achieve your goal.
- Make the decisions smaller – a big goal is overwhelming and leaves us feeling we have to decide on lots of changes. You may have a big long-term goal, but break it down into the smaller steps you need to take to start on the journey towards that goal. Keep updating the steps as you make progress.
- Measure progress – with tangible results. These will be positive opportunities to reward yourself, which is an important motivator. Choose rewards commensurate with the result achieved and that will give you a positive dopamine kick; the brain will then work to keep you on track and get more of this positive feeling.
- Develop one new habit at a time – it takes about 6-8 weeks of sticking to a new way of doing things for that to become a habit (auto-pilot needing little energy). Master one before starting on the next, then you make optimum use of your energy.
- Know your energy cycles – plan to do the more challenging things when your energy is high. Seek some ways of overcoming the risk of slipping back into bad habits when your energy is low.
For example, if you want to stick to healthy eating, take healthy snacks with you and keep them to hand so you can resist the chocolate bars and crisps. Prepare your evening meal in a slow cooker, so you know it will be ready for you when you get in and you have no need to buy something on the go.
- Write down your goal and the details as you think it through, including how important it is to you and what your life will be like when you achieve it. Include in this your measures and milestones and how you will handle obstacles – by writing it down the brain is already making progress towards the goal and becoming familiar with what you’re about to do. Familiarity uses less energy.
- Share your goal with others and ideally enrol someone else with you – the mutual commitment will help your motivation.
- Don’t beat yourself up when you lapse. Unhelpful beliefs will hold you back – see this lapse as a one-off and learn from it to help you stay on track in future.
New Year New You
This can be true for you if you appreciate that you can strengthen your willpower and use it wisely to see your resolution through and achieve your goal. Be one of the 12% who achieve their goal!
By the way I’m going to share my resolution publicly here and use these tactics to help me achieve it. Goal: By the end of the year I will be meditating for at least 20 minutes on a daily basis.
I’ll build up to this, starting with once a week for at least 10 minutes and increasing duration and frequency each month.
I’m happy to respond to questions, please leave your comments or questions below or contact me direct.