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Five Top Tips for Sticking to New Year's Resolutions

02/01/2014 15:13 GMT | Updated 04/03/2014 10:59 GMT

New Year's Eve is notoriously a time to start afresh: stop smoking or drinking, lose a stone or take up running. The Ancient Babylonians did it, the Romans made promises of change and good behaviour to the god Janus, and in modern times, we sit down with champagne fuelled good intentions which are often due to fail by mid January. Like many festive traditions, there are religious origins to the concept of New Year's resolutions, but even in a secular setting, the idea of self-improvement is clear.

As the clock strikes twelve, the promise of a new year often makes people believe in their abilities to have a complete and magical change of character. The diet is due to start on the first: out with the cakes and Christmas chocolates, and new hobbies are declared. However, when one wakes up the next morning with a hangover and fancying that last slice of left over Christmas cake, keeping up with these resolutions can be harder than it initially seemed.

When asking friends and family about their typical New Year's resolutions, many mentioned their overambitious targets or typical 'failures' in achieving their goals. One declared that "I know I have proclaimed 'this year I'm going to lose a stone, attend all my lectures, and be better with my money!' All statements which, if you knew anything about me, you'd know to be entirely unachievable all in one go." Another vows to give up smoking every year: at ten to twelve she gets out her last cigarette and exclaims that it will be her last cigarette ever. Yet on a cold January's evening when others pop out for a cigarette, she's sure to sidle outside with them, for 'just a drag' or because it's been 'a long day'. That's not to say she can't or won't quit, but rather that her alcohol fuelled decision at midnight may not be the most lasting of ideas.

Indeed, recent surveys show that most people fail their New Year's resolutions. This is because instead of setting themselves small targets and taking steps to make improvements over time, people expect that at the stoke of midnight, bad habits, like Cinderella's ball gown, will just dissolve, leaving them able to enter the new year an entirely changed person. They don't genuinely feel powerful and in control of making changes but have merely made impulsive promises to themselves. This year, instead of setting unrealistic targets, the impossibility of which will become apparent before your hangover has even cleared, resolve to have a greater acceptance of yourself, and take action to make changes based on realistic achievable goals.

Five top tips, based upon the Thrive Programme, for making this the year that you achieve your resolutions are:

1. Focus on your good points as well as ways in which you could improve

It's great to think of ways in which you can improve your life, but many people only focus upon their perceived flaws and imperfections, which reduces their self-esteem and contributes to feelings of powerlessness. As well as making some resolutions, why not also begin this New Year by thinking of 10 positive things about yourself, no matter how small? Reflecting upon these will help you to build self-efficacy, empowering you to then achieve your goals in any areas that you do want to improve.

2. Set realistic goals

There is no point resolving that you are going to lose 3 stone in the next week, or that you are going to swim in the World Championships next month when you would currently drown trying to swim a length. Instead of making impulsive, drunken promises, think about your New Year's resolutions in advance, so that you are able to (soberly!) think about what goals are realistic. You need to take a look at where you are right now and what it is reasonable to expect yourself to achieve. Don't be negative about your ability to achieve things, but look honestly at whether or not what you are asking of yourself is realistic; don't be too much of a perfectionist. This does not mean that you should not ever set yourself challenging goals, but that your goals should be achievable if you apply determined effort.

3. Realise that you are in control

Helplessly expecting your resolutions to just magically happen is a pretty good way of making sure that you do not achieve them! You want to realise that you are in control of whether or not you are successful in your goals; your successes come about as a result of your efforts and skills. Keep reminding yourself that it is down to your whether or not you achieve this coming year's resolutions.

4. Take action!

Tying in with point 3, you want to take action! Think about the small steps that you need to take in order to accomplish your desired goals. For example your resolution may be to run a Marathon at the end of the year. But a year is a long way away. So to ensure you are taking the steps to achieve this goal, and to help yourself to stay motivated, you should set yourself small short-term targets. For example, you might decide that you are going to run 4 miles twice a week, for the next month, and so on.

5. Process your efforts and achievements

As you work towards your goals, you want to ensure that you recognise the efforts you are putting into achieving your resolutions and realise that it is this effort that will lead to success. It is important that you say well done to yourself for your hard work. Upon achieving a goal, remind yourself that you have done something significant and, again, praise yourself for your accomplishment. It is, also, essential to focus upon skills you have learnt along the way. Rather than just thinking about what you have achieved, what you have mastered and learnt is really important - in fact often more important than the outcome - since it is these skills that will enable you to Thrive in life.