I am not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions – mainly because I think that if you want to make a change in your life, why wait until the first day in January to do so?
That said, I do understand that many people see a new year as a good opportunity to start afresh, and a useful trigger to kick off some healthier habits.
So why did research from the University of Scranton find that only 8% of people are successful in achieving their New Year’s resolution?
I think it’s because many people don’t seem to put a lot of thought into how they are going to achieve their goals.
Once all the festivities die down, they are left with a vague goal and no real plan to achieve it. Making good on their resolution then becomes too hard and it seems easier to revert to old habits with the promise that they will try again next year.
So if you are planning to make some healthy changes to your life in the New Year (or in fact, any time), here are some ideas to increase your likelihood of success in meeting your goal (so that you are one of the 8%).
Pick one thing.
Many people are so enthusiastic about getting healthier they start multiple healthy habits (or stop multiple unhealthy habits) all at once – lose weight; exercise more; get fit; quit smoking; quit sugar…
Managing all of these changes simultaneously becomes too hard because there are too many changes happening all at once. The individual ends up not being able to concentrate on any of the habit changes and doesn’t do any of them well, if at all.
If there are several things that you want to change, that’s fine. Write them all down where you will be able to find them easily later.
Then pick one to focus on first. Only one.
Work on this change for at least a month until it becomes second nature. And only then have a look at your list to pick the next one that you want to work on.
Be very clear about what the change will look like when you’ve done it.
For example, if you want to be a better runner, specify how far you want to be able to run in six months’ time.
If you want to be more flexible, ask a trainer at your gym to measure your current flexibility and then specify a reasonable percentage to increase this by in six months.
If you want to lose weight, specify how much and by when (but be reasonable – 0.5 – 1 kilogram (1-2 pounds) per week is realistic).
Break your goal down into small, manageable steps – so small that they seem ridiculous.
For example, if you want to start running but you currently fatigue just walking to the mailbox, you cannot realistically expect yourself to start running 10 kilometres three times a week straight away.
Instead, break your goal down. Commit to walking to the end of the street and back twice a week. See how this goes for a week or two. If it’s easily achievable, you’re enjoying it and you want to do more, increase the distance or the speed of your walk.
Have a plan.
It is too difficult to achieve any sort of goal without a plan. It just won’t happen.
So the actions that you need to do to achieve your goal need to be scheduled into your regular activities each week.
For example, if my goal was to start exercising, I would schedule in my calendar that I will go for a walk every Monday, Thursday and Saturday for 30 minutes starting at 5pm.
If your goal is to eat healthier, schedule a regular grocery shop each week. Then block out an afternoon on the weekend to cook some big batches of food to freeze for those times that you don’t have time to cook during the week.
Telling someone about your goal and how you are going to achieve it makes it more real for you. It makes you accountable for actually doing it.
Enlist the support of a family member or friend. Tell them your plan of attack and ask them to regularly check in with you about whether you’re doing what you said you would.
Better yet, buddy up with someone who has a similar goal to you so that you can encourage and be accountable to each other.
Other ways of being accountable to others for achieving your goal is to join an online forum of people who have similar goals and report in to them each day.
Alternatively, I like using the habit app, Lift, to help me consistently work towards my goals.
Have a negative consequence for not doing it.
Often there is no negative consequence to us if we don’t do some work towards our new goal.
In fact, often the move to a new habit is more painful than where we are now. This is why many people find it so difficult to start exercising or to give up a particular food that they love.
To get around this, try creating a negative consequence if you don’t do what you said you would. Or on a more positive spin, create a positive consequence if you actually do what you said you would towards your health goal.
For example, if you are trying to eat two pieces of fruit each day, a negative consequence if you don’t eat your daily fruit quota may be that you have to tell all your friends on Facebook that you didn’t do it. Or if you eat two pieces of fruit each day for a week, you might reward yourself with getting a massage.
Whatever consequence you choose (positive or negative), make sure it’s relevant and meaningful to you. There’s no point rewarding yourself with a massage if it’s not something you truly enjoy.
Work out strategies for obstacles.
We all know that there will be things that come up that can get in the way of us doing the actions to achieve our goals – you have to work late unexpectedly; your child gets sick; you’re invited to a party.
So since we know things will come up that will make it hard to achieve our goals, we need to plan ahead of time how we will deal with this.
If your goal is to lose weight and you’re invited to a party on the weekend, you might decide to eat something healthy before you leave so that you eat less of the party food, which is often unhealthy. You might also decide to go for a bike ride the next day to burn off any excess calories you ate the night before.
For those unexpected events that arise, it may help to build a little bit of flexibility into your schedule. If you can’t get to the gym today, can you clear a bit of space to go tomorrow? Or can you do an abbreviated workout at home instead?
Whenever you decide that a change is needed in your life, whether for a New Year or just because today you’ve decided “enough is enough” and the time has come, remember to be patient and kind with yourself. It took time for you to develop unhealthy habits, and it will take some time (and some setbacks) to create and feel comfortable with your new, healthier choices.