As we welcome in 2019, social media will be awash with everybody’s promises of change in the new year. The New Year’s resolution can be a powerful tool for positive behaviour change, but what is the key to success?
I’m sure you have tried to adopt a new, healthier behaviour in the New Year. Save money, get fitter, spend more time with loved ones... these are all resolutions that at some point we try to adhere too.
How successful have you been? It’s been reported that of those that make New Year's resolutions, 77% will maintain them past the first week, 64% after one month, 46% after six months and 19% will maintain them after two years (1). So what is the top tip to stick with them? How do you become the 19%?
#1 – Plan for the challenging moments
Understanding what you are up against is important. The New Year’s resolution itself is simply an intention to change, it highlights your willingness to adopt a new behaviour. Most people underestimate the enormity of the task at hand. Changing or adopting a new behaviour is very difficult and so you should prepare properly.
In preparation for my big year of getting in shape, I have scheduled gym sessions on my phone, got a sports watch for Christmas, bought new Nike trainers, new gym t-shirts. We all prepare positively, we rarely plan for the challenging moments.
What do I mean by challenging moments? Well those 6:30 am gym classes you have signed up to before work, your clothes are all set out for the morning, you have set your alarm and come 6:00am... the snooze button is hit.
From ‘The Art of Learning’ by Josh Waitzkin
Consider the image above, been there before? We all have.
But the quote highlights an often forgotten aspect of adopting these new behaviours… it is not easy, it is tough. We will experience discomfort when adopting them. For me that could be the physical discomfort of the exercising in the gym, the difficultly of pulling yourself out of a warm bed on a cold January morning, that feeling on a Friday after work when you just want to go home.
The internal dialogue I get may sound something like this… ‘I can’t be bothered’, ‘Just 10 more minutes in bed’ or ‘I am too tired’. I might then start to become unwilling to experience this discomfort and tiredness. I may even try to rationalise the lack of commitment to the gym by convincing myself other things are more important. These cognitions then snowball, ‘I don’t have time for the gym’ becomes a common story and I start to slip up and become another one of those people who have not stuck to their New Years resolution.
Having a plan to combat these thoughts and feelings is essential to move along the road towards maintaining this new behaviour. All of these difficult moments will threaten our success, preparing for them will allow you to bridge the gap between your readiness to change and maintaining your New Year’s resolution. Inherent in this is noting and accepting that the road will be tough and difficult.
Anything that can help me when I get these difficult thoughts?
Your thoughts are not facts
We so often treat the internal dialogue in our heads as fact. The ‘I am too tired for the gym’ phrase comes up and in your head and you begin to agree. ‘Yeah I am too tired, it’s been a long day’, before you know it you are at home in your PJs watching back to back Peaky Blinders. But are you really? Are you really too tired for 40 minutes in the gym?
We often limit ourselves by how we think and feel, because we believe the way we feel and think will affect what we can do… but you can still go to the gym when you feel or think that you are tired. Do you think those regular gym goers don’t get tired?
A strategy taken from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy may help. Simply put ‘I am thinking’ in front of these difficult thoughts to give… ‘I am thinking that I am too tired for the gym’. How does that change things? Do you feel less controlled by those thoughts? Using this simple technique will hopefully provide you with some breathing space, see the thought for what it is… just a thought. There will be numerous choice points along this journey, those moments of ‘Will I, wont I?’. Finding a way to say ‘I will’, all while having those difficult thoughts, will help you reach your goals.
Consider all this when in that moment, its 6am...
"Its too early and I am too tired for the gym"
"Well I am thinking that its too early and I am too tired for the gym because it is 6am"
"I know going will make me more tired, but I can accept that because going to the gym will be bring me closer to my values and goals, it will bring me closer to the person I want to be"
Enjoy the road.
Norcross JC, Vangarelli DJ.(1989) The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. J Subst Abuse; 1 (2):127-34.