Whilst the 1st of January isn’t a magical day, the symbolism of an old year ending and a new one beginning offers many of us a time to reflect. This pause gives us space to think about how far we have grown, and for the change we want to continue to see.
However, New Year’s resolutions become central to most marketing campaigns this time of year, and the pressure to make bold, unrealistic goals, can become overwhelming.
How many of us have compiled a long list of New Year’s Resolutions, only to feel overwhelmed and defeated by day 5? Statistically, around half of adults making some form of commitment to change at the beginning of the year don’t manage to achieve their goal.
Part of the problem with New Year’s Resolutions is people often make bold and challenging statements that are unrealistic, vague, or unachievable. Unquantifiable statements such as ‘I am going to lose weight,’ ‘I am going to quit smoking’, or ‘I am going to get fit’, are hard to achieve. Making statements without a clear, measurable goal will very quickly make you lose motivation.
There is no pressure to create resolutions this year, the pandemic has meant that many of us are just focused on keeping afloat and ensuring our families are safe. However, if you feel in a place to set yourself some challenges towards a positive shift, read on.
How To Make New Year’s Resolutions You Will Keep
Change One Thing
Think about what it is you would like to achieve or to change in the coming year. Then narrow it right down.
If you are building on existing habits you might be able to manage several resolutions, but if you are planning on stopping or starting something new, it requires far more effort. The best advice is to not overcommit yourself. For example, wanting to stop smoking and start regular exercise may feel too much at once. Try to focus on one thing, perhaps cutting down smoking, or using a cigarette replacement. Smaller, more manageable goals will mean you are more likely to succeed.
You can always introduce a new goal later in the year. It is better to change one thing at a time and succeed, than to try to change too much, be overwhelmed, and give up.
Write Your Goal Down
When you know what you want to achieve, write it down as an “I will…” statement. Then write down why you want to achieve it. Your reasons aren’t to justify the change to anyone else, but about understanding your motivation. Writing it down will allow you to revisit them on days you are struggling, so the reasons need to be honest and resonate with you.
Make It Achievable
Some resolutions have clear, quantifiable endpoints, such as “I will run the London Marathon in 2022”. Having a definable goal means you can see when you have achieved it.
The most common New Year’s Resolution of “I will lose weight” is just too vague. Having more manageable targets that are ongoing is much more likely to work for you. Why not try joining an exercise class twice a week, or pledging to make home-cooked meals instead of getting takeaways.
When it comes to losing weight, it is worth thinking about the reasons why you’re not happy with your body, or why you feel you have an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise. Perhaps, the best resolution you can make is committing to finding the causes behind the unhelpful behaviours that you have learnt that mean you are not happy in your body. Therapy can be a really helpful and positive tool to learn more about yourself.
Plan For It
How do you need to prepare to support the change? If your plan is to go out for a 20-minute walk every day, then make sure that you have comfortable shoes and clothes for all weathers. It’s harder to talk yourself out of going for a walk on a rainy day if you have waterproof clothes.
If your plan is to start journalling every day, work to establish a routine. Try to wake up 20 minutes earlier, and find the time in the stillness of the morning to have a cup of tea and write in your journal. The day often gets away from us, so it is important to plan and make time for things we want to change.
Record Where You Started
We often don’t see how much progress we have made until we look back and reflect on where we started. Sometimes it is helpful to have tangible ways to measure our success. So why not capture where you are right now. This may be in a photograph, a video, or writing down how you feel.
For example, if your New Years Resolution is to be able to do a cartwheel, why not take a video to be able to compare later on in the year.
To change behaviour you need to be motivated. Yes, you might start the year full of motivation, but a few cold weeks into January and it is no surprise if you begin to struggle.
We all differ in what helps to motivate us, but helpful approaches are:
- Be in a community with others working towards the same goal
- Tell someone who will keep you accountable
- Create a clear picture of what you and your life will be like one year from now
- Get professional support, for instance, if your goal is weight loss then Hope Therapy can help with a counsellor and dietician.
There will be bumps in the road. There will be days you find it harder than others or days you slip back into old habits. The key is to recognise that these are setbacks, and rather than giving up you can start moving forward again. If you find that negative thoughts about what you can achieve are bringing you down, then CBT may be helpful to stop the negative spiral.
Accept that there are things outside your control. With a goal of walking daily, you might find one day in February that it has snowed and the pavements are really icy. Being too rigid with your goals can make it easier to just give up. Flexibility is key when creating lasting change. So on that icy day in February, why not just try a home workout, or if you are looking for peace within your walk, why not do some meditation or have a bath.
Each time you reach a milestone recognise that, and reward yourself. This doesn’t need to be something big, just a way to recognise your commitment. You might find it motivating to plan a big reward when you meet your goal, or you might find the goal rewarding enough.
Owner and lead counsellor of Hope Therapy & Counselling Services. Ian draws upon various approaches including CBT, Person-Centred Counselling and Mindfulness.
To book a session with Ian or one of the Hope Team, just get in touch.