How to keep your New Year’s Resolutions Past January
As we approach the end of the first month of 2018, one common question crops up amongst friends and family alike: “How’s the New Year’s resolution going?” Around one third of people in the UK make them every year, however, sadly, a whopping 80% of us will have failed by the second week of February.
So, how can we make sure that this year the changes stick long after January? Whether you’re still going strong but looking for a boost, have faltered, or have only just caught the resolution bug – here are Invision’s top tips on how to make your resolution a lasting change.
1. Make sure your resolution is S.M.A.R.T
The self-improvement industry is awash with acronyms, all pitched as life-changers – however this one will help you plan your goal, and make sure you stick to it.
Your resolution should be specific and focus exactly on what you want to achieve. For example, the goal of achieving ‘a better body’ isn’t refined enough. How much weight do you want to lose exactly? And in how much time? These parameters will give you a concrete target to aim at, making you much more likely to achieve it.
After setting a specific goal, you need to have a way to measure your progress. According to a study by the American Psychological Association in 2015: “Prompting progress monitoring improves behavioural performance and the likelihood of attaining one's goals.” This is because you are constantly able to see improvements as you progress through your challenge – making it far more rewarding.
The challenge you set yourself must be achievable. Setting an outlandish and extremely difficult challenge will likely result in failure and could deter you from trying the process again. Start with small changes – and once you’ve built up some resolve you can go for the wilder challenges. For example, if your goal is to be able to run 5k, work up to that distance by starting small and increasing it each week. The NHS has some brilliant advice on this in their couch potato to 5k programme.
Are you attempting this resolution for yourself or for someone else? We’ve all felt the pressure from partners or friends in the past to make certain changes in life – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, to have a real likelihood of the change sticking, you have to want it yourself.
Add concrete time periods to your goals. This will give you something direct to work towards – and even encourage you to do something when you don’t feel like it!
2. Make it easy for yourself
This will no doubt come as a shock to us all, but making the circumstances surrounding your resolution easier will make you more likely to keep at it. A study by Dstillery of 7.5 million gym-goers in 2017 found that those who only had to travel 6 kilometres to their gym went five or more times each month compared to those living 8 kilometres away, who went a mere once a month.
The lesson? If your resolution requires a lot of effort each day before you even start it, you’re going to be far more likely to give up!
3. Identify potential problems ahead of time
Trying to form any new habit is never going to be plain sailing – there will be obstacles and it’s wise to think about how you’ll go about overcoming them before they happen. American professor Ann Graybiel has conducted a wealth of research into habitual behaviours and her findings can help us all to make positive changes in our lives.
Graybiel says that these actions start with a cue, then a routine, and finally a reward. The cue is the feeling you get that causes you to want to do something, the routine is the habitual action and the reward is the feeling you get from it. So, if we look at it with the example of smoking:
Cue: Feeling stressed
Routine: Smoke a cigarette
Reward: Feel less stressed
What you have to do with your resolution is to be aware of your cues, and by being aware of them it becomes easier to plan a different routine for when you feel them. For example a tea, rather than a cigarette.
4. Incentivise yourself
We all need a reward every once in a while, and if you’re depriving yourself of one thing – then treat yourself with something else! That is, of course, something which doesn’t defeat the objective of your resolution. For example, if your challenge is to cycle to work every day, then at the end of each successful week treat yourself to your favourite food or activity. With constant small incentives, you’re much more likely to stick at it and not get bored.
5. And finally, be kind to yourself if you slip up
Now, although this might seem contradictory, slight lapses shouldn’t be viewed as a total failure – try and break out of this catastrophic thinking and simply view it as a minor ‘slip up’ instead. If one month of success leads to a momentary lapse, that doesn’t mean you should give up the resolution entirely. Acknowledge it and keep going. In mindfulness and meditation, this approach is described as ‘beginner’s mind’.
American psychologist Pauline Wallin has conducted a range of research in the field of habitual behaviours, and says in an article for Healthy Living Made Simple “everyone has lapses. Understand what happened, learn from it and get back to the programme the next day. Don’t allow yourself to use slip ups as excuses to give up.”
Keeping New Year’s resolutions is notoriously difficult so even attempting should be viewed as an achievement (even Barack Obama has stopped making them) but hopefully some of this advice will help you to stay motivated and realise the benefits of your challenge.
So with that, good luck!