Help your New Year’s resolutions last all year
New Year is a time for new starts, fresh thinking and regenerating. We analyse ourselves and our old habits and plan new ways to rediscover the person that we want to be.
Defining your targets with your coach is a good start, of course, and he or she will help identify what beliefs or thought patterns are getting in the way.
But what can you do to improve your chances of breaking hard-to-change habits or deeply ingrained lifestyle choices?
Let’s face it, your mental energy has just been stretched. You’ve just survived the most challenging point of the year and what stands in your way? January. The traditional low point of the year.
The weather is shocking.
Over-stretched your social resources.
The threat of returning to work hangs over you.
Isn’t this enough to try the willpower of all but the most resilient of us?
Here are 10 tips for maintaining that mental resolve through to the new you! And if the task appears daunting, remember the old joke; how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
- Visualise yourself
The strongest selling point in any advert is not the facts or the product. It’s you.
It’s the image of yourself using the product that buries itself in your subconscious. ‘Picture yourself,’ the ads say, ‘fitter, more attractive, more interesting, happier. That’s what our product will do for you.’
Use the power of images to sell the new updated version of yourself to yourself. Imagine yourself with the change already made. What will that look like? Create the most tangible image you can, and hang on to that through the difficult times.
- Choose your resolutions wisely
It’s too easy to be scattergun in your resolutions. Pick just one and focus on that. Reversing one bad habit will involve overturning others, and one success will breed more success.
Make your resolutions into habits that you can define and work on.
- don’t resolve to ‘get fitter’, but to ‘exercise on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday’
- don’t resolve to ‘lose weight’ but to ‘keep a log of my weight once a week’
- don’t resolve to ‘be less stressed’ but to ‘meditate for 5 minutes immediately after lunch every day’
- Work on positives
It’s hard to work on a negative, and evidence shows that it’s less successful. Make your targets positive ones that you are in control of. Think about what you gain from the bad habit that you’re trying to change – why have you held on to it for so long? There must have been benefits to your negative behaviour.
Can you retain those benefits while losing the negatives?
- perhaps you want to drink less, but your social life revolves around the pub or after-work drinking. Plan how you can keep your social life but lose the drinking – or plan a different social life!
- you want to lose weight but you love cooking. Can you find interesting low-fat alternatives that still satisfy your love of the process of cooking?
- Start in low gear
Making your resolutions small can seem unambitious. But think about your car, speeding effortlessly along the motorway. You had to get there by engaging first gear; then when the hard work of moving the car was done, step by step you can increase the results without increasing the effort, just by gearing up.
Once your resolution is moving, you can always up the ante. And success breeds success! Succeeding at a smaller target will encourage you to tackle bigger and bigger ones – repeatedly failing at more ambitious objectives can quickly become a self-limiting belief.
- what is the smallest positive action that will make a difference to your happiness? That could be your best present to yourself this new year.
- Tell someone
Tell your closest friend. Tell your coach (if you have one!). Be accountable.
But don’t broadcast it to everyone. Choose your confidante wisely.
Advertising your resolution too widely can make it an albatross around your neck.
- perhaps you chose the wrong target and want to change
- a small slip could be magnified into a major catastrophe if everyone knows it
Choose those who understand your wider objectives, and choose those who you can be honest with. Let them know if you’re struggling to maintain the new regime, and listen to their encouragement.
- It’s fine to start again
It’s hard to break a bad habit. The grooves worn by repeated behaviour run deep and entrenched. If you want to create a new path, you have to create those new channels through repeated use. Even after 12 months of abstinence, 43% of individuals return to smoking – but that’s no reason not to try again.
The second best time to start your resolution was the 1st January. The best time is today.
- Forgive yourself
There’s a reason why so many resolutions are abandoned. Willpower requires effort. Backsliding involves release and relief; and those are both pleasurable! Failure makes better anecdotes than success.
Stop telling yourself that you’ve failed if you find yourself drifting back into old ways. Tell yourself that it’s only temporary and that you can start again.
And be flexible. Changing circumstances throw up changing demands. What might have seemed realistic on December 31st might be over-ambitious once the new term starts, or once the bills start coming in. Keep your goals light on their feet but keep them positive.
- Watch out for ‘what the hell’
Dr. Janet Polivy of the University of Toronto studied the habits of dieters. In one experiment, she asked dieters and non-dieters to eat far more than their daily calorie requirements and then offered them ice cream. Most non-dieters declined, but paradoxically, more dieters ate the ice cream, because – ‘what the hell’ – they’d already blown their diet for the day.
Just because you’ve slipped from the path, don’t allow ‘what the hell’ to divert you further!
- Make your targets SMART
The last thing I do in almost every coaching session is to ask myself whether the client’s target is S.M.A.R.T.
There’s a good reason for this – it works.
SMART targets have been around for a while and there are a variety of versions but here’s the version that I usually use.
Analyse your resolution through these five filters and ask if there are any that you can make stronger.
- Congratulate yourself
Take time to notice when you’ve made a difference. Any goal that you can break down into smaller goals, with rewards for each stage, will help to keep you motivated. Tell your chosen friend, tell your coach. Write it down, give yourself gold stars, take 5 minutes to yourself. Whatever it takes. And then aim for the next target!
Good luck – this year is the year!