The Secret Formula to Keeping New Year's Resolutions
I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions. Like most people I make them every year and usually break them before the end of January. I love the chance to “start over” and erase the mistakes of the prior year and have a “blank canvas” to work with. It allows me to “shake it off” (to quote Taylor Swift) and stop beating myself up about what I did or did not accomplish the previous year.
Why do I continue to make resolutions, year after year, even though I have failed in the past?
I believe anyone, at any time, can change.
I would rather try to change and fail over and over again, then give up and do nothing. I also believe if something is not working, you need to figure it out and fix it.
This year I realized I needed to look at and approach “resolutions” differently. If I want to stick to my resolutions past January I will need to:
- Change my mindset about change and
- Create a solid plan of action to change
Why don’t we stick to our resolutions?
We tend to pick resolutions that force us to make large changes all at once.
Drink, eat, smoke your lungs out on New Years Eve and then quit them all cold-turkey on the 1st – too hard for even the strongest willed person. We set goals for ourselves with no plan, no insight into ourselves and no belief that change is possible. Making big complex changes takes time, patience and the willingness to experience some type of hardship. It is too much to ask of ourselves to take all of this on at once and expect that we will be able to stick it out for 365 days in a row.
I recently listened to Tory Johnson on Audible read her book “The Shift: How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life.” What Tory did to lose 62 pounds in one year was not a dieting breakthrough or some plan that she invented herself. What made her diet journey a success were her own personal “shifts.” These small shifts in the way she thought about food and her relationship to her body, allowed Johnson to stick to her goal and do something she had never done before. Johnson shifted her beliefs about herself and her relationship with food, which allowed her to create a new belief system about herself.
If you plan to make changes in 2018, what can you do to create a new mindset?
Start by making these key mindset shifts immediately:
- Change is good, it is not something to be feared or dreaded
- Change will be hard but always worth it
- You have the ability to change – stop telling yourself you don’t
According to psychologist Guy Winch, “research has found that failure can impair performance on future tasks unrelated to the prior failure. Failure can also cause us to overestimate the difficulties of our goals, underestimate our own abilities and can quell our motivation.”
We set very high goals for ourselves; we fail and then tell ourselves we are failures and that our particular goal is too hard. This is why changing your mindset is so vital.
You have to believe that you have the ability to change, that you will fail at times, but you can learn from it and move on.
What if we stopped seeing our resolutions as something negative that we “have to do?” When you set up a resolution or goal by saying, “I have to stop doing this or I have to stop doing that” it automatically creates a negative outlook and attitude towards the resolution.
If improving your health is your resolution, how can you think about the goal differently? Maybe decide to stop focusing on what you have to give up: cookies, donuts, ice cream, pizza, beer, etc. and start thinking about what you will be getting.
Johnson employed the technique of saying, “I can have these foods if I want, but I am choosing not to.” Change can trigger negativity because it not only forces us to get out of our comfort zone, it forces us to relinquish some control. This is why the technique of “making the choice” to skip fattening foods for healthier ones is so effective because it gives us a sense of control at a time when we feel the most out of control.
While mindset and your belief system are a huge part of accomplishing your resolutions, the other important part is to have a plan of action. Johnson used a number of techniques that are outlined in many change management books, seminars given by motivation “experts” and diet magazines. Again, they were not new or unique, but they worked because she handpicked the tools and techniques that worked best for her and she incorporated them into a plan she created. She would then “shift” when parts of the plan didn’t work and she stuck to the parts that did.
When it comes to resolutions, it is critical to have that ultimate goal in mind because this is your “why.”
Why am I doing this?
What are my values and beliefs about myself and why do I want to align myself with this particular goal?
The answers to these questions will get you through some tough times but they are not going to help you on a daily basis.
Once you have your “why” you then need to break down your goals into small incremental steps with realistic deadlines and back up plans. Pick 2-3 things that you can do to meet that goal. Each item has to be realistic, have a specific time frame and it should be something that feels doable. If you pick something you know you are not going to do and in a time frame that you know you won’t meet, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Here are some ways you can create a plan to accomplish your resolutions this year using the example of “wanting to be healthier.”
- Get as specific as you can about the resolution or goal. Is it that you want to start eating specific foods that you know will make you feel better? Do you want to stop eating meat? Do you want to just lose weight, if so, how much weight?
- Then determine a realistic timeframe for yourself. For example, "in three months, I would like to be completely meat-free. In two months, I would like to be eating meat only on the weekends. In one month, I would like to have a meat-free Monday." The more specific you get the more success you will have.
- If you get side-tracked or “fail," don’t give up the resolution. For example, if you end up eating meat on a Wednesday in month two, stop and determine what you need to do differently next time. Were you running late at work and didn’t have the time or energy to prepare a vegetarian dinner? Were you eating the same thing every night and got bored and meat seemed like a refreshing change? Were you losing the larger “why” of deciding to give up meat? How can get your “why” back? This is how change happens. Taking a failure and looking at it and determining how to approach it differently next time.
- If you find that you are making a plan and having a hard time following through, then it might be something else. Maybe you are not ready for change or maybe the change you believe you need to make is not your own but someone else’s. Instead of making the resolution to “quit eating sugar” decide to make the resolution to research and explore your options for how you would like to “eat less sugar” for the month of January.
There will be many articles written and published this month about resolutions. Some will say resolutions are good and others will say resolutions are bad.
How you see resolutions and whether you choose to make them this year is your choice. If you decide to embark on setting new goals for 2018 I would urge you to take some of these suggestions to heart and feel free to comment or email me and let me know how your resolutions are going.