Jan 20

Is this New Year going to be a New You?

Well, can you believe we’re over half way through January already?  And are we sticking to our resolutions, getting closer to our personal goals, or have we given up at the first hurdle?


The definition of the word ‘resolution is:
1. The state or quality of being resolute; firm determination.
2. A resolving to do something.
3. A course of action determined or decided on.

When we make these resolutions, we have all 3 – because New Year is seen as a fresh start, wiping the slate clean and forgetting about the past failures and blips.  What usually wavers is that firm determination, not the goal which always stays there. And then we beat ourself up for being so weak, lose sight of our goals or start all over again, with more pressure this time; and so the cycle goes on.  If we are supposed to learn by our mistakes, why does this not work with resolutions?  Do we see where we go wrong and avoid that route?  Or do we got further back and look at our actual goal setting process itself with a view to fine-tuning it?

With resolutions, we are usually giving up something we normally enjoy or taking up something we don’t normally enjoy!  But we are programmed to move towards pleasure and away from pain (physical or emotional).

It’s not difficult to see why these choices fail almost all of the time! We do what we do, no matter how “bad”, because our unconscious sees the behaviour as beneficial. Even heroin addicts take heroin for a positive reason, even if it is the one of the most terrible and destructive behaviours you can do; they certainly don’t do it for the negative aspects; they are just a by-product.

You need to figure out what positive benefits you will get from changing this behaviour. WHY do you want to change? Maybe you will be healthier/taste your food/have more money/whatever. You have to strongly create this positive state, imagine this outcome vividly in the present context (not some distant future time, but NOW) and most importantly feel good about this new behaviour, this new “you”

1. Make the resolution specific, not wishy-washy

‘I want to lose weight’, ‘I want to get fit’.  How would you measure this?  How can you see how far you are coming along and how close you are getting to your goal?  How do you know when you ‘have got fit?’ or reached your weight loss goal if you haven’t been specific about it?! Try setting outcomes in terms of what you will see, hear, feel, taste or smell when you get your outcome. For example, the goals mentioned could be better expressed as “I am in my size … jeans and they feel loose; I am walking up the stairs feeling that my breathing is steady.” This outcome is measurable and progress towards it can be assessed.  Add small steps, so that you can feel you are mentally ‘ticking off’ as you progress towards your goal; maybe a few pounds or inches at a time (3lb weight loss a week)

2. Set your goal in a positive tense

If you set a Resolution of “I will stop eating cream cakes” your attention necessarily directs itself to cream cakes. A better alternative would be to state a positive goal, what you DO want rather than what you don’t want, and resolve “I choose to nourish myself with healthy and balanced foods.” The mental representations you create, the blueprint for action that you are giving your inner mind, is of a very different character.

3. Set resolutions that we can control, rather than other people.

It is also well recognised that a good way to generate anxiety is to take something that it is important for us and ensure we have no control over it happening.  A classic example is “I will get [insert name] to love me.” Well, no-one controls another person’s emotions so the outcome set will necessarily be an uncontrollable one for the person seeking the other’s love. Or, if a person sets an outcome of “I will win the lottery this year” that is clearly beyond anything more than the tiniest influence of any person. A more self-controlled outcome would be “I will buy a lottery ticket every week and check the winning numbers consistently.” This is, at least, within our power.

4. Change Habits

Habits build up by repeating the same action in the same situation. Each time you repeat it, the habit gets stronger. The stronger it gets, the more likely you are to perform it without having to consciously will it. If your very specific plan seems to be going wrong after a while, or doesn’t feel right, then it may need a tweak. Try a different time of the day or performing the habit in a different way. Habit change needs self-experimentation. Are there any tweaks to your environment you can make? Those trying to change eating habits might try buying smaller plates, putting fruit on the counter and avoiding TV dinners.

Habits cannot be killed off. It’s like the old saying that you never forget how to ride a bike. Old habits are lying there in the back of your mind waiting to be cued off by familiar situations. It’s much better to plan a new good habit to replace the bad old one. Try to learn a new response to a familiar old cue. For example, if worrying makes you bite your nails, then, when you worry, do something else with your hands, like making a hot drink, or doodling.

There’s bound to be some competition between old and new habits at first. Try to anticipate what the mental danger points will be and plan for them.

For example, you may want to get up earlier but know that you’ll feel lazy when you wake up. Plan to think about something that will make you jump out of bed, like an activity you are looking forward to doing that day.

We’re most likely to give in to old habits when we’re tired, low and hungry. So commit to your new habit when your self-control is strong.

For example, clear all the unhealthy food and drink out of the house, cut up the credit card or give the gaming controller to a friend for safe-keeping. Getting in the habit of planning ahead is one of the best ways of keeping your New Year’s resolutions.

This is the best, most sustainable path to self re-invention—forget about waking up tomorrow a totally different person. Instead go little-by-little, step-by-step, and eventually you will get there.

4. Self-affirmation

Another trick to boost your self-control in the moment is to use self-affirmation. This involves simply thinking about something that is important to you, like your friends, family or a higher ideal. Studies suggest this can boost depleted willpower, even when your ideas aren’t connected to the habit you are trying to ingrain.

So if you’ve given up your 2013 resolutions at this point (and they say on average they only last for 2 weeks into any new year!), don’t worry – one blip doesn’t mean a fail – revisit your goals applying the rules above, and give it another go.  You deserve to be the best version of you!