When the festive celebrations are over and the year is coming to a close, there is one phrase in particular which is probably going to be heard more than any others. The ever-popular phrase “new year, new me” rings in the ears of hundreds of thousands of people every January 1st.
In fact, I can almost guarantee that you will hear this from at least one person you know. I can probably also guess that their resolutions will be somewhere along the lines of spending less money, losing weight or spending more time with their family and friends.
Now I am by no means saying I am not guilty of this. I for one have used this phrase and made many New Year’s resolutions along the same lines, none of which I have actually managed to keep. In fact, for the last three years I have set the same resolution as the year before. I promise myself I will spend more time with my family and friends because they’re far better company and far more important than my phone or TV!
But there is one problem. The sheer fact that I keep resetting this resolution clearly shows that for some reason, I just cannot stick to it. Perhaps this says something about my personality. Maybe I cannot commit. Maybe I am just eternally doomed when it comes to change. Who knows. Maybe next year I’ll manage to stick to something!
Of course it seems like a natural time to be making changes, but why are only a select few of us able to successfully achieve our goals? According to a YouGov poll conducted in 2015, 63% of Britons are planning to make New Year resolutions in 2016 as they head into 2017.
Here are the top 10 most popular resolutions in 2015:
|Spend Less, Save More|
|Enjoy Life to the Fullest|
|Staying Fit and Healthy|
|Learn Something Exciting|
|Help Others in Their Dreams|
|Fall in Love|
|Spend More Time with Family|
To you and I they seem reasonable and achievable, don’t they? Well, in actual fact, data compiled by Statistic Brain from a University study shows that only about 8% of American people actually successfully achieve their resolutions.
I can’t say I am surprised by this statistic. In fact I almost expected it. This is not because I hate people or am for one second assuming all people in the world are lazy. In fact, it is because experts all over the world have conducted research and shown us there is a real science behind this. Now I want to share this science with you because it could help you in future.
*Disclaimer* – I am NOT by any means trying to pretend I am some sort of scientist or know much about human behaviour (I’m not sure an A level in psychology allows me to have such rights). I just value the sharing of useful information and hope it is of some use to you!
So here goes…
The reasoning behind the failure to stick to resolutions:
1. The resolutions are often too ambitious and unrealistic:
Experts such as Professor Peter Herman, a psychology lecturer from Toronto University, believe that by making your goals more realistic they’re more likely to happen. It’s recommended that instead of saying “I want to lose 1 lb of weight a week”, you should try changing it to “I want to lose 1 lb a month”, which is much more realistic. By making sure you’re being realistic, you are much more likely to achieve your goals.
Come on, we all know that being too ambitious doesn’t get us anywhere! Baby steps are much more effective in the long run (as slow as they may be).
2. We try to change existing habits instead of creating new ones:
Susan Weinschenk Ph.D suggests it is possible to change our habits if we do it based on science. She suggests we have to create a new habit to change one and this follows a scientific method.
Firstly, we must pick something we want to change BUT without making it too big. For example “quit smoking” is too big, and Susan suggests this is why it doesn’t work. We try to choose things which are going to be too hard to achieve. Instead, it must be something like “reduce the amount I smoke from 10 a day to 6” and we must gradually work down.
We then need to pair this action with a previous habit. For example, if you went running for 20 minutes each day, adding 10 more minutes on connects the existing and new habit together. In theory, every time you chose to run again, you would extend your time from 20 to thirty minutes (I’m tired just thinking about it!).
Then, once your action is paired, you then need to practice this multiple times before the action becomes ingrained in your routine. She recommends practicing it between 3 and 7 times a week to allow it to become a conditioned response (in other words – an automatic/subconscious behaviour – also known as our habits).
3. We don’t change our self-stories which drive our behaviour:
Susan suggests that we all have a “story” operating us which is essentially motivating us and influencing our behaviour. Most of our decision-making occurs subconsciously and we can “feel” when we have completed an action either for or against our “story”.
She suggests we should follow the advice from Timothy Wilson in his book “Redirect” which suggests we should “story-edit”.
In simple terms, this means we should write out our existing story and compare any resolutions to it. If there are any elements which go against our new resolution, we need to pay attention to it. For example, if you want to become more optimistic as part of your resolution, then you need to write a realistic story showing how hard it is for you to focus on the positives and ‘bright side’ of life and individual situations.
Then you need to re-write your story which tells the story of your “new” self which you want to achieve. Write about how you will be more optimistic by trying to find a positive in every situation or how you’ll read positive quotes every day to help balance your mind.
This rewriting should help you stay on track and focus on exactly WHAT it is you want to change and HOW you’ll go about it.
4. We are too vague when it comes to setting our goals:
Professor Timothy Pychyl Ph.D from Carleton University’s psychology department suggests that New Year’s resolutions are “the formal expression of vague intentions”. Similarly, Sarah Stroud at McGill University suggests that resolutions are similar to “anaemic intentions”. In simpler terms, this means they’re so weak that they lack a consistent plan which ultimately means we are less likely to stick to them.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with vague intentions, Timothy suggested that to be able to stick to these resolutions we must make them specific. Instead of setting a goal of “I will eat healthily in 2017”, decide EXACTLY what it is that will make your eating healthier. For example: “I will cut down on the amount of packets of crisps I eat per week”, “Make sure I eat 3 portions of fruit a week, including 1 apple” (there’s no such thing as being too specific!).
He concludes with 3 tips on how best to stick to our resolutions:
- Be specific
- Accept the fact we may not feel like completing our resolutions, but we have to act upon them to achieve them and better ourselves.
- Accept the fact that we will fail sometimes at meeting these goals, but to be forgiving to ourselves and try to move on. Being too harsh on ourselves will make us less likely to achieve them.
So remember, when making resolutions, make them small but achievable. Make them something which you can stick to. That’s not to say you should never dream big, but remember that by making it small to start with, the result will be bigger than you could ever imagine!
Also remember that if you can’t or don’t end up sticking to your resolutions, this doesn’t make you a lazy person or a failure. Just keep trying, and who knows, maybe next year will be your year!
I suppose the last thing to say to you all is I hope you all have a very happy and healthy 2017. I hope you all are bought happiness, love and joy and achieve things which you once thought were unachievable.
I will leave you with one of my all time favourite quotes which I hope you will carry with you this year.
Be back soon,