Updated: Jan 3, 2022
5 Tips to keeping your New Year Resolutions
Have you made your resolutions this year? If you have, do you think you’re going to keep them?
My Facebook feed is full of posts about people reviewing last year (usually how bad it was) and setting goals for this one. The implication is that there was something wrong with us last year and we need to make ourselves over new for the new year. That probably isn’t true. While there might be things about yourself that you want to change, that doesn’t mean that you were a dreadful person up until midnight on 31 December. You might not need to make any massive changes at all.
Or you might want to start adopting some new, helpful habits that will make your life a bit easier, but aren’t in the category of massive life change. I’ve started using a new planner. I could have done that any time, but the one I’ve got started on 30 December so that’s when I started using it. There weren’t any pages for days before that. I’m not calling it a new year’s resolution though. It’s just a new planner. Either it will be useful, in which case I’ll keep on using it, or it won’t be and I’ll stop. That’s ok.
Ring out the old, ring in the new
Before we get into new years resolutions, let’s take a moment to think about old year reviews. Are they a good idea? Well yes, they can be. But (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) they’re not uniformly good news. It all depends.
If you’re going to look back over last year make sure you do it in a balanced way. The first thing is to think about the whole year rather than the last 2 months. Where were you on 1 January last year compared to where you are now? Were you happier, more successful, healthier, richer then than you are now? Or are you better now than you were then?
It’s tempting to think about the bad things that happened because they’re usually the most painful and loom largest in our memories. Of course you’ll remember it if a close family member died or your marriage broke down. But what else happened? You survived those things, for a start. At the time you probably thought you wouldn’t, but you did. Even if it’s a work in progress you’re still here, and functioning well enough to be thinking about a review of the year. Go you.
Don’t forget the good things, however small. What made you laugh this year? Which friends did you spend time with? What were you proud of? What resolutions did you keep? And which ones did you decide to ditch because they weren’t serving you?
If last year was the best ever, why? What happened, what did you do that made it so good, and how can you do them again - but even better - this year?
Having looked at last year, there might be some things that you aren’t that thrilled about. Perhaps you put on weight or didn’t get the promotion you wanted or didn’t take that holiday. So why? What can you do this year to ensure that you DO get the things you want out of it? This is where resolutions come in.
I never make resolutions, I only break them anyway.
Over 80% of us make New Year resolutions but only about 20% of us actually stick to them past the first two or three weeks of January. Why?
I believe the main reason has to do with why we made the resolutions in the first place. It’s often because we think we ought to be doing something that we’re not doing (or vice versa) but that we don’t actually want to do very much. After all if we did want to do it, we’d be doing it already, right?
So don’t bother making resolutions for things you ‘should’ be doing. Only make them for things you want to change. Here are 5 tips to make sure you get your resolutions right and that they last.
1. Make the right resolution.
So often we make vague, feel-good resolutions. I’m going to join the gym. I’m going to lose weight.
That’s fine but unfortunately just joining the gym isn’t enough; you need to go to it as well. When will you do that? How much weight are you going to lose, and by when? 10lbs in the next two days isn’t realistic; 1/2lb in the next 6 months probably is, but not really worthy of being called a resolution. So the key is to be specific about what you actually want to achieve. Resolving to go to the gym on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, or to lose a pound a week, is more likely to be successful. Don’t set yourself a goal of losing six stone this year because it’s too big. You’ll get discouraged before you’re three weeks in. Your brain needs to see progress.
2. Test your commitment.
If you’re not committed to your resolution it will go out of the window on the first rainy day. When you’re considering your resolutions, ask yourself how committed you are out of 10 to achieving them.
Less than 5/10 – Don’t bother. At this level you’re more committed to failure than you are to success. If you don’t care more than 5/10, save yourself the effort. Perhaps it’s one of those ‘should’ resolutions that you didn’t really want to make in the first place?
6 or 7/10 – OK, but that’s still not very committed. Ask yourself what you could do to lift your score to 8/10 or more. If there’s nothing, are you sure you really want to do this?
8/10 – Not bad, but that’s still the equivalent of only being committed 4 days out of 5. What could you do to increase your commitment level? Publicly committing to your resolution might be the solution. Post on social media and ask your friends to hold you to account.
9/10 – great. At this level you’re pretty likely to succeed.
10/10 – If you’re really 10/10 committed that’s fabulous. But are you really? You might be on 1 Jan, but by 17th it might be waning to about 6/10 at best. If you think you’re 10/10 committed, you might be fooling yourself; in which case re-score yourself and respond appropriately.
If you’re the sort of person who never commits 10/10 to anything because Something might come out of left field and stop you, then I suggest you score your commitment level out of 9.
We’re not talking here about putting money on definite success; we’re talking about how determined you are. It’s about what you’ll do if Something does try to stop you. If Something is big enough, ditch that resolution with pride. You’re responding to circumstances and setting new priorities, not failing.
3. How will you know you’re there?
If you’ve committed to losing weight, for example, but you don’t own any scales, how will you know that you’re on track or when you’ve achieved the goal? You either need to buy some scales or set a different resolution – for example to be able to wear size 12 jeans and still breathe.
4. Be realistic.
If your resolution is something massive, say giving up smoking when you’ve been a 40-a-day girl for the last 25 years, don’t expect to be able to achieve it right away and stick to it. It’s more realistic to set yourself a series of interim resolutions. So by the end of January you might want to be down to 20 a day. Giving up altogether might be a March thing. If you’re using artificial aids to help such as vaping or nicotine patches, you’ll need to wean yourself off those too, so actually your resolution may need to be to stop using any form of tobacco or tobacco replacement, rather than giving up smoking. Alternatively, resolve to cut down rather than go cold turkey. Only having wine at weekends or only eating chocolate in the evening is better than swearing off it altogether and falling off the wagon mid-month. You can always over-achieve.
It's also ok to get help. For example hypnotherapy is great for giving up stuff. It's not cheating, it's taking sensible steps towards guaranteeing success. (I know someone, if you need them).
5. Celebrate success.
At significant points, say the end of each week in January and monthly after that when your new habit is a bit more fixed, celebrate your achievement. You’ve already beaten 80% of your fellow resolution makers by sticking it out this far. Do something nice for yourself to mark the occasion.
If you’ve publicly declared your intention, remember to share your success. It's not showing off.
Set your rewards in advance. So when you've been to the gym twice this week, what good thing will you give yourself? What about next week and the week after?
Do Not do, or not do, the thing that’s the subject of your resolution. Giving yourself a day off the gym or allowing yourself some chocolate after all will only weaken your resolve and increase the likelihood of your falling off the wagon. Pick something completely different. It can be anything, no matter how big or small, as long as it’s something you want and will enjoy.
Oooh - that sounds hard....
If having gone through these tips you’re not sure you want to make those resolutions after all, then don’t. That’s ok. Better not to make any than to make half-baked ones that you give up on after two weeks and then feel bad about yourself. If you’re seized with enthusiasm in mid March, start then. Every day is the beginning of a new year.
If the resolution you’ve made is to pay more attention to your mental and physical health, then you’ll probably need a bit of help and support along the way. I’d be delighted to provide that.
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Caeredwen is a physical therapist, coach and counsellor based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If this blog has touched you and you would like to contact her in confidence, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at www.magichandscalmminds.com.