As we really settle into autumn here in Australia, it’s hard to believe it’s already May. This is the time of year when some of us start wondering: what on earth happened to those energy-filled New Years Resolutions we so enthusiastically committed to a few months ago?
Statistics vary, but most sources agree that less than 10% of us will achieve our New Years Resolutions in any given year.
So, what’s the secret? Have you ever really thought about why resolutions tend to fade off into the background, as the fresh energy of the New Year gets replaced by the realities of everyday living? Why do so many of us fail, year after year?
Resolutions: the promises we make ourselves
I’m sure you’re familiar with the litany of things we think we need to fix. How many times have you promised yourself that THIS is the year you will finally:
- lose that weight
- get to the gym regularly
- quit smoking
- find the love of your life
- start a regular meditation practice
- finally get your debt paid off
- cook a healthy meal every night
… and the list goes on.
There’s no denying that a New Year brings with it a feeling of new possibilities, a fresh start, a clean slate. This makes it a very tempting time to decide to become a Whole New Person. Introducing You, Version 2.0.
But when we give in to that temptation, it’s not long before our brain gets so overwhelmed by the enormity of our goal that we start to sabotage our efforts. Combine this with the inevitable return of our “normal” lives – we go back to work, we have some late nights, we miss a few gym dates, we get tired – and before long, our resolutions are forgotten and we are back where we were this time last year.
What if there was another way?
Here’s the thing: The real secret to starting and maintaining change in your life comes from the things you do every.single.day.
As humans we really struggle with big goals that stretch off into the distance – these are the ones that overwhelm our brains and invite procrastination in to take the wheel. Change won’t happen reliably until you change the things you do on a daily basis.
The Old Way:
So let’s think about what we usually do, and why it’s really setting us up to fail.
- You set yourself a New Years resolution to lose weight. This is it, this is the year you’re really going to do it. You go hard in the first few weeks of the year doing the things you think will help you reach that goal: going to the gym, cutting down on calories or fat or sugar or carbs or whatever route you choose to take, saying no to desserts and weekend drinks and donuts. You feel pretty virtuous most of the time, drop a couple of kilos, imagine how amazed everyone will be when they see the New You. Life is good! This is gonna be a great year!
…Then, life gets in the way, you miss a day, you eat a donut or 7, down a few red wines after a particularly trying week at work, and pretty soon your resolutions are out the window. And most of us are pretty familiar with what happens next: it’s all over. You’ve proven to yourself once again that you aren’t good enough, you don’t have enough willpower, you don’t have what it takes. Putting aside for the time being the fact that most popular weight-loss approaches are doomed to fail (you can read a bit more about common weight-loss and dieting myths here, here and here), you feel like a failure. Pretty soon you give up on your goals altogether – while the year is still young. Sound familiar?
vs the New Way:
Now, consider the alternative: you decide you want to lose weight.
What are the daily habits, routines, rituals that form the bulk of your days? How do they contribute to or interfere with your weight loss goals? How can you tweak your daily life to support your long-term goal? You’re smart about it – you think about what you’ve tried before, and why it has or hasn’t worked. You choose one thing (that’s right – ONE THING!) and you do it. You do it today, and you do it again tomorrow. Don’t let yourself get distracted with the big list of things you wanted to change. Just do that one thing.
Then, after a little while, that one thing becomes part of your normal routine. Can you see where I’m going with this? It’s the simple things, done every day, becoming part of your routine, that will enable you to change. If you miss one day, that’s ok – because you can just try again tomorrow. If you miss a lot of days, you can reassess whether that was the best place for you to start. But whatever happens, you take the pressure off yourself by focusing only on one thing at a time. And when that thing becomes a part of your life, you can move on to the next.
Small steps aren’t overwhelming, you don’t really have to think about them – you just decide to make that one small change, and carry on with your life. But if you choose those small steps well, you’ll find they snowball into more and more shifts – all you have to do is keep using your end goal as the litmus test for each decision.
The Result: Lasting Change
The real magic of this approach is that once you get started, each new change comes faster than the last. They all build upon each other to get you moving consistently in the direction you want to move.
PS: Don’t Forget to Celebrate!
Please don’t forget to stop and take stock. When you look back over the past four months, you’ll realise all the things you HAVE achieved. The decluttering you’ve done, the family stuff you’ve planned (and survived), the small habits you’ve established, the fun stuff you’ve started doing, the new book you’ve been reading. We’re always moving forward even if it seems like we aren’t. When you measure your life’s progress solely on your big goals, you ignore all the other things you get done along the way. Start celebrating the successes. My tip: I started a habit a while back of writing down 3 things I did each day. At the end of the day, I usually spend a couple of minutes planning for tomorrow and writing my list of things to do – so I just added in a moment to think about what I got to cross off my list today. We spend so much time adding new things to our lists that we often forget the things we actually achieved. You really aren’t lazy, you know!
I’d love for you to try this approach on one of this year’s New Years Resolutions that maybe isn’t going as well as you would have liked. What’s one thing you could do every day that would take you closer to that resolution becoming a reality? Tell me about it in the comments if you like! I’m also working on a simple worksheet that will take you through this process. If you’re not on my mailing list yet, jump on here and you’ll automatically receive a copy once it’s done. Magic!
Wishing you much health and happiness,