Another year has passed and yet to me, it feels like 2022 is still in its infancy! Time flies by quickly and not only when you’re having fun it seems. I remember being thirteen and thinking; “I’ve got loads of time to make that happen,” and then being twenty years old and thinking; “Oh yeah, I’ve still got all the time in the world to make that happen,” The reality is, things don’t just happen. Good habits aren’t formed by accident and bad ones don’t go away without patience and practice.
With the new year on the horizon, more and more people will be searching for how to make New Year’s resolution stick. After all, we’ve all set New Year’s resolutions in the past, begun the new year well and then quickly fallen flat on our faces. Our intentions are good and yet our new habits fade over time and we fall back into our old routines. So, why is it so hard to make New Year’s resolutions stick? Why are they so hard to keep up with?
New Year’s resolutions aren’t just for the New Year
Just like the old saying; ‘A dog isn’t just for Christmas’, a New Year’s resolution isn’t just for the new year. I’ve often found that making resolutions around New Year’s can be problematic. This is because a New Year’s resolution often feels tied to the time of year. For example, if you make a commitment to yourself to eat healthier in the new year, perhaps you’ll go shopping in early January and buy the food you think you should be eating. You may do well and eat healthy foods religiously for a matter of weeks or even months before the warmer weather hits and you find yourself at a barbeque surrounded by unhealthy treats.
The sun begins to shine, the alcohol is flowing and you decide to treat yourself because you’ve been mostly good up until that point. Whilst you shouldn’t restrict yourself from having fun, an occasion like this can quickly send you back towards your old, unhealthy habits, especially if you’ve been too strict with yourself. You tell yourself you were never cut out to make your New Year’s resolution stick in the first place and you eventually give up.
Making New Year’s resolutions can feel exciting, the new year brings with it a sense of a clean slate and a fresh chance to reinvent yourself. In reality, the new year is just like any other time of year to make a healthy change. When the buzz of the new year wears off, so too can your motivation to continue with your resolution.
I think starting a new habit can be done at any time of the year. However, if you’re set on using January as a chance to make a resolution, here are some helpful tips to try and make them stick.
1. Make it a habit, not a resolution
As mentioned, I think that New Year’s resolutions have a bad reputation and don’t work very well. In fact, one report claims that New Year’s resolutions have an 80% failure rate! As we all know, a New Year’s resolution is a new thing you’re aiming to do or achieve or quit, essentially a new habit. I think it’s better to treat your goal as a habit, a long-term lifestyle choice, instead of a resolution. A habit is something that you carry with you over time, develop and track.
The main benefit of making your resolution a long-term habit is that it creates a new pattern of behaviour that you are intentionally developing, rather than a short-term resolution.
2. Make it enjoyable somewhere in the process
Some habits require you to tolerate > normalise > master. However, you ideally want to make your New Year’s resolution enjoyable. You’re going to be way more likely to stick to a new habit if you make it rewarding. However, you might not always find it enjoyable until you’re into the process. For example, running 10 miles on a treadmill, especially for a beginner is an incredibly uncomfortable situation. You might not find pleasure in the exercise until you’re five or ten minutes in when you get the ‘runners high’.
How can you make your new habit enjoyable? What is rewarding about it? If you make it too uncomfortable in a way that doesn’t align with your current ability levels, you’re more likely to quit. If you can only run 5 miles a week instead of every day, begin with that. Your New Year’s resolution doesn’t have to be rigid, it can develop over time.
2. Make it clear to yourself
Many of us, myself included, begin New Year’s resolutions because we think of something that would be good to do but we often don’t set very specific goals or really understand why we’re setting new goals in the first place. For example, you may say you’d like to lose weight without specifying how much or being clear about how it will improve your life. Maybe you want to lose 5 pounds so you look better on your wedding day or maybe you want to lose 10 pounds to avoid health problems.
If you want your New Year’s habit to stick, consider writing down the goal of your resolution and detailing how it will affect your life in a positive way. Setting a goal will help you to stay on track, rather than being vague with yourself. It doesn’t have to be a big goal, more realistic ones are better.
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3. Take it seriously
As mentioned, it’s easy to want to start a New Year’s habit because it’s a good thing to do. However, it’s important to take it seriously if you want it to stick. Think about yourself one year in the future. Will you be in the same situation again, wanting to start another vague resolution but knowing that in reality, you’ll probably not see it through?
Make your New Year’s resolution now or never and commit to yourself. 12 months is going to pass regardless of if you start a new habit or quit a bad habit. What can you commit to this year to put yourself in a better position at the same point next year?
Don’t treat your resolution as a fresh start, treat it like a new lifestyle you know you can easily achieve that will be simple to follow through with throughout the year.
Don’t wait until January 1st. If you want to cut back on drinking alcohol, start doing it now. If you want to cut back badly enough as part of an ongoing healthy lifestyle, begin as soon as you can.
image: pixabay4. Make it stupid simple
The first thing in my opinion, and experience, is the most important. If you want your New Year’s resolution to stick, it has to be stupidly simple. You have to make it incredibly achievable to do. For example, if you set yourself the goal of going to the gym every weeknight after work after hardly ever working out in your entire life, you’re more than likely going to find yourself giving up rather quickly.
It’s won’t be because you’re weak and unmotivated, it will be because you’ve made your resolution/habit too unrealistic. Likewise, if you want to eat healthier, it might be more achievable to eat healthier breakfasts, to begin with, rather than creating a whole new diet plan for each of your daily meals.
Grandios New Year’s resolutions are exciting however smaller, more obtainable goals often have more longevity. Think about what you want to achieve and then break that goal down into smaller chunks. Begin with the most realistic goal without cutting yourself short and see how you go.
5. Make it stupid easy
Starting a successful new habit or making a New Year’s resolution stick means making your own life easy as possible. Not only do you need to make it an achievable goal, but you also need to create a new lifestyle and be prepared. For example, If you want to drink more water make sure you’re always carrying a water bottle with you. If you want to eat healthier, you need to chuck out any unhealthy foods. Your environment dictates your habits so if you don’t get it right you will find it easier to fall back into old bad habits.
A couple of years ago I told myself I would finally commit to losing a few pounds. I bought a load of fish and vegetables and began a diet I believed would be sustainable. After a few days, I realised that I was still feeling very hungry after my lunches and would find myself reaching into the cupboard for crisps and snacks. I knew I had eaten healthy meals up to that point so I told myself it didn’t matter too much if I had a chocolate bar here and there. However, those odd snacks quickly turned into grazing all day and before I knew it I had slipped into my old ways.
This taught me to prepare ahead of time and reminded me to take this habit seriously.
You’ll have ups and downs along the way6. Go easy on yourself
Most of us, myself included, think that we can simply change our lifestyle overnight and we’ll be good. In reality, starting a new habit is often trial and error. You’re going to miss a day, a few days or maybe even a week. It’s tempting to beat yourself up when this happens but the truth is, it’s not always your fault.
As human beings, we get comfy in our routines. They’re safe and familiar. We need routines and familiar behaviours to survive. This makes it incredibly difficult to change our patterns of behaviour overnight. So, if you’re planning on starting a new habit from January 1st onwards, just remember it’s not going to be as easy as flicking a switch.
We learn our routines and behaviours over years and they become part of who we are. If you were brought up in an obese family and your parents always fed you junk food, it’s going to be an uphill battle to start eating fish and rice every day, for example, for the rest of your life.
Making a New Year’s resolution stick is not an easy thing to do. However, go easy on yourself when you fall short of your new habit. Don’t give up and simply start again the following day. Once we fail, it’s tempting to chuck in the towel but it’s all part of the process.
Instead of focusing on the end goal, enjoy the process. For example, if you’re trying to put on more muscle, focus on the process of research and learning instead of the end physique you desire. Any worthwhile habit takes time and there will be bumps in the road. You need to accept this and continue to persevere because you know what you want at the end of the tunnel is important to you and worth continuing to chase.
7. Willpower won’t be enough
In my opinion, willpower doesn’t work, mostly. Willpower is like a muscle you need to flex however its effectiveness dissipates quickly. It’s why we start a New Year’s resolution with excitement and a well-meaning commitment. We feel like a battery full to the brim with willpower. However, your willpower can disappear before you know it. This is partially down to the fact it’s difficult to learn new behaviours and stick to them after you’ve spent 10-20 years with old habits.
However, it’s also due to the fact that willpower is an idea that can’t be tracked or developed in any measurable way. It’s a fleeting thing like happiness that comes and goes. Instead of relying on willpower, find a way of tracking your new habits so you can measure your success rate. There will be days when you wake up and you don’t feel like eating a healthy meal or want to go to the gym and that’s okay.
When this happens, just keep tracking your progress and stay focused on the process. It’s important to remember your motivation will flux over the year depending on what you’re doing. Even elite athletes have days where they just don’t feel like eating or training properly.
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Above all else, keep following the process, especially when you fall shot and feel like giving up. If your new habit feels too hard to achieve, adjust it and break it down into easier chunks. Perhaps you don’t need to perform your new habit every single day. Why not every 2 or 3 days?
Creating good habits that last takes time so be patient, start now and track your progress. If you want a useful habit tracker that will help you along the way, go here.
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