How to keep New Year's Resolutions
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
I love the early days of January. It’s that brief moment in time when we make a decision to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. You can practically smell the optimism in the air. We have excited chats with other people about our new resolutions, and are inundated with a plethora of online listicles about the ten changes you can make the ensure the coming year is your BEST EVER! We get all excited about all of the change we can make.
January is when people make solemn declarations about having better balance between their work life and home life, drinking more water, doing new things, or reading more books. Or, beating the world record for walking on one’s hands. In case you were wondering, the current record for hand walking is over three miles. For a brief moment in time, even that seems possible.
There are, however, certain things we conveniently forget as we ride the optimistic train all the way to the resolution station. Important things. Such as: I can’t even do a handstand, so breaking the world-record for a walk on my hands is probably a tad ambitious. We forget that we are still ourselves, just a version of ourselves that is a day older than we were last year. Unless we had an amazing spiritual epiphany as the sound of badly-sung Aud Lang Syne assaulted our ears, we aren’t likely to achieve different results from last year’s resolutions (ie: none) unless we change our method.
How, then, to keep your resolutions past the middle of January?
1. Choose no more than three things to change, and ideally one
Fact is, willpower is finite. You might have ten zillion things you want to change about your life, but the longer the list, the higher the chance of failure. Three is the maximum number you can focus on, especially if it's something that challenges you. One is ideal, if you can identify a lone forerunner. If you scatter yourself to widely, you'll do well for the first few days of January. You're an All New You, hear me roar! But then real life happens again. And the annoying thing about real life is that old triggers lurk around every corner, ready to pounce. The less effort you need to put in for your one big change (or three smaller ones) the better, and the more chance of success.
2. Tell someone
Nothing is more motivating than fear of looking like a fool. The more people you tell, the better. That way, your Aunt's Cousin's hairdresser will be like "weren't you meant to be walking here on your hands?" and you'll be reminded of your need to train. Make sure you tell the right people, though. People who will support you and be kind.
Actually, based on the above, your Aunt's Cousin's hairdresser sounds like a bit of an asshat. Don't tell them. Tell your friends instead.
3. Respect the 5 stages of change
In the 1980s, psychologist James Prochaska developed the five stages a person must go through before they can change. The stages are:
4. Action; and
In many ways, stages 1 - 3 are easy. There are very clear things that you can do: join a gym; buy shiny new active wear; get bandages for your hands so walking on them hurts less. Having said that, though, you're unlikely to succeed at something if you jump in at stage four. It needs to be something you've already thought about, not something your mate suggested at 11.59 on 31 December. And it's also important to remember that moving through stages 1-3 can turn into a really clever form of procrastination for actually making the change itself. You don't have to have a plan. That's what 1 January is for. It can't be a completely new idea either. If it is you won't have done the mental groundwork to make it succeed.
But that’s not the hard part. The challenge comes during stage five, the maintenance. This reminds me of when my new sleep regime stopped at day three, as well as so many other times in my life that I’ve tried to change a bad habit and failed. Starting is one thing. Keeping going is another, because of what they call the extinction burst.
4. Beware the extinction burst
This is where I usually fail. I hate the extinction burst so much I'd much prefer to refer to it as the Extinction Burst of Failed Dreams and Doom. Melodramatic? Maybe. True? Absolutely.
With all new resolutions, there comes a point where the novelty has worn off, you feel inconvenienced by the change, and suddenly find multiple excuses to revert back to the way you were. Psychologists call this an ‘extinction burst’ – when the old, bad habit fights its way back to the surface, and tries and ninja its way back into your life. It's the habit's way of saying "Oi! I liked being here! You think you're going to get rid of me, eh? Well I have a thing or two to say about that ... "
This extinction burst comes at different times, depending on the habit you're trying to change. But - it always comes. Always. The good news is you can push through. And once you do, you'll be on the home straight.
5. Be realistic
Change can happen. It really can. You can turn things around. And in many ways, the New Year is the best time to do it.
But, it's important to be realistic. You will not have any more free time or money in 2021 than you did in 2020. Your obligations and mental load will likely remain the same, The best things to try are the tweaks you can fit in to the margins of your day, small things that make a real difference to your physical and mental wellbeing.
Maybe breaking the World record for walking on one's hands is a little much.
Maybe I'll focus on drinking more water instead.