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The New Year Resolution Conundrum

It's fast approaching that time of the year again of 'out with the old and in with the new'. Well intended resolutions will be made (exercise more, improve diet, reduce tobacco, alcohol and caffeine consumption) which, statistics tell us, will likely fail...

It's fast approaching that time of the year again of 'out with the old and in with the new'. Well intended resolutions will be made (exercise more, improve diet, reduce tobacco, alcohol and caffeine consumption) which, statistics tell us, will likely fail.

Just under half of the population will make a resolution this New Year and recent psychological studies estimate that as many as 80% will fail within the first month. We even now culturally refer to 'Fail Friday' which next year falls on Friday 23rd January, as being the day in which most resolutions will come undone. What can we learn from this and how can we increase our chances of achieving our resolutions?

We could simply say that the best time to set a resolution or goal is today and not 1st January. Although statistically true that doesn't quite explain the reason for failure or how to prevent it from happening in the future. I would suggest that the reason for failure is that we are using the date (1/1/15) as a springboard for change and somehow expecting the calendar to do all the work.

This 'date launch' is great in terms of sheer starting gun motivation but we know that excessive stress, negative emotions and a lack of willpower will ultimately halt the momentum of at least 80%. Using this New Year resolution model, as we move further away from 1st January the likelihood of failure increases rather than decreases. How can we stop this from happening?

Rather than relying on the calendar to see us through the resolutions we should introduce a framework for change. It's possible to achieve any goal/resolution. The key to success is not launching it on a specific date but by implementing an underlying strategy for success.

This strategy doesn't have to be a complicated, prolonged or difficult to follow. You can simply take into account the following factors which will increase your chances of success significantly, regardless of the date you choose to implement your resolution:

  • Know your desired outcome - It's important to recognise when you've arrived at your goal. Being able to gauge how close/far away you are from it also allows you to adapt your strategy accordingly. I'm sure most of you will recognise the 'SMART' goal setting acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Time-bound). It's been around for so long because it works. You may know it but have you ever truly used it?
  • Current vs. future you - Start to map out the differences between the current version of you and the desired future you. See, feel, think and hear all the differences that make that change. By visualising these changes in your lifestyle, environment and behaviour you subconsciously increase your chances of achieving them.
  • Build in a commitment device -Actively make commitments to yourself and others whilst creating consequences for failing to achieve them. By using this tactic you can directly impact on your motivation to succeed whilst setting some challenging/fun penalties for failing to do so e.g. taking someone you really dislike out to dinner.
  • Become adapt at observing your irrational thinking - Becoming aware of your critical voice (negative thoughts) allows you to break its influence. For example, 'I can't', 'I'll never', are both self defeating limiting beliefs and are only true if you choose to listen and believe them. Find positive alternatives and drop them in as your awareness increases.
  • Behaviour - Discover the rewards that you get for your current behavioural pattern and make changes. Think about the pleasure or comfort you might associate with sugar, tobacco or alcohol. These habits have become locked in and it can require dynamic work to shift your perception. Does sugar, alcohol or tobacco represent feelings of safety, love and comfort? Where does that come from and why do you need/believe it? Is this what is stopping you from truly achieving your goals?
  • Environment - Analyse your current environment and if necessary change it. Avoid negative influences and situations whilst enlisting friends/family to challenge you or check on your progress. Build a supportive environment and network.

Although these are simple concepts, I understand that it can be challenging to truly create change and break habits. As a species we can be resistant to change. If we start to see our resolutions as positive habits which will bring pleasure, we can psychologically and physically begin to embrace them.

Start to see resistance to change as part of a natural process. This will allow you to acknowledge it and then try new methods which can help unlock it. Making yourself a promise, without grasping this concept, then beating yourself up if you break it is simply counter-productive.

In life, it seems that when we struggle to get something to work, rather than change tactics, we tend to do the same thing but try even harder. Try to implement and embrace these new approaches. An old school friend of mine, wise beyond his years, once said, 'Do what you always do and expect to get what you have always got'.

If you can't break 'new year resolution syndrome' then fine, start on the 1st January, but please try a new tactic. Do something different and experience the results which you truly want.

Good Luck!

James Rose