Some of us get really excited or at least feel compelled to voice a change at this time of the year. About 50% of Americans make them every year according to a study by John Norcross and his colleagues at the University of Scranton (1). Often our resolutions involve doing something that we have been avoiding for a while like joining the gym, losing weight or quitting sugar. Essentially we are aiming for self-improvement, often based on what we failed to achieve in the previous year.
Personally, I resolutely committed to New Year resolutions growing up – as a kid, then a teen and eventually an adult. When I became a mother, however, my commitment wavered.
I had ten weeks of maternity leave with my first baby. Getting through my days of pumping milk, cooking meals, getting to the gym, or simply having a conversation with someone felt like a massive achievement. It was no surprise that my resolutions then tended to follow the same statistics which most of us mirror – according to studies across the US and UK, 80% of New Year resolutions fail by the second week of February (2).
Why do my plans fail?
We often fail because we don't create a plan and manage our time efficiently. Perhaps it's as simple as carving out time to go to the gym, to make your meals from scratch or to go on dates. Often we fail to set up accountability, which involves sticking to our plan or perhaps getting a friend involved so they can partner with us to make this change.
Another reason can be that we are not being really honest with ourselves. Sometimes we set goals that are way out of our league. Make sure to stay realistic and create a plan that you will most likely stick to and feel like you can develop momentum rather feel intimidated by.
On another note, perhaps one of the reasons we fail to complete our commitment to our resolution is that we have not done the math. It probably seemed like a really good idea to join a swanky gym, where you could steam and get your nails done after a workout, but if you don't do a budget, this could produce massive problems. Maybe start a routine of jogging to work instead? These are all valid reasons for not sticking with your resolutions.
Then, one busy year, I had an epiphany.
My resolutions were always about quitting something, giving up something, adding a chore to my already busy schedule. I realised that I needed to switch the focus and make my resolutions about adding something fun or engaging into my life and focus on building willpower for those plans.
I have always loved the smell of freshly baked bread – I mean who doesn’t? So, that first year my New Year’s Resolution was: “make bread for my family.” I had become a label-reader as a mother of young kids and was quite disturbed by the ingredients in a loaf of traditional bread with its many preservatives, sugar, high fructose, corn syrup, etc. Often the list had as many as 25 ingredients! I researched bread recipes that were no-knead, and this resolution stuck! I have now been making bread on and off for my family for nearly 7 years.
I have also had resolutions like: “become more high maintenance in the hair department” which involved getting my hair done 4-6 times a year, applying deep conditioning treatments and brushing my hair. Another favorite one of mine was: “start a gratitude diary” which evolved into getting the word “gratitude” in Sanskrit tattooed on my inner right wrist, and asking my kids at the dinner table or at bedtime: “What are you grateful for today?". Research shows that cultivating gratitude in this way changes how you engage – you’re reportedly nicer to live with, for one! (1)
How to stay committed to your goals
1. Make a list
Start with a notepad and write down the 4 categories of Spiritual, Emotional, Mental and Physical. Write down one thing in each category that you would like to add to your life. For example, for Spiritual: start volunteering, for Emotional: manage irritations by learning to meditate, for Mental: manage digital addictions, for Physical: maintain exercise routine.
2. Choose one and create the circumstances
Sit with these for at least one day. See which one keeps bubbling to the surface. Sleep on it. When you have chosen one, stick to it. Perhaps you chose to lose a little weight – one way to lose excess weight is to drink a lot more water, especially when you are feeling hungry. Try to stop buying juices and sodas and put water bottles in your car, on your desk, or on your coffee table.
3. Start small
Have you heard of Kaizen? It’s a Japanese concept which says, "what’s the smallest change you can make which will produce an effect." If you selected meditate, start by doing 5 minutes of practice a day. If you said manage digital addictions, start with stop checking phone after 830pm at night for example. Reframe the change so it’s in a positive language. “My tech-free time begins at 830pm,” rather than “Stop checking for likes on my photos of my delicious dinner at 830pm.”
4. Write it out
Post notes all over your house. Set reminders on your phone to beep. Tell people, those you live with and friends who can be accountability partners. Even better? Start to hang out with people who have the habits that you are working on cultivating. Jim Rohn said it best, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
And, most importantly, if you fail, remember that you can always start again tomorrow. don't give up! Just take it day by day. Happy 2018!
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1. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11920693
2. Business Insider UK: https://uk.businessinsider.com/new-years-resolutions-courses-2016-12