Hands up if you’ve broken any New Year’s Resolutions yet? Yep, me too, along with most of the population. And it’s only February!
So what is it about making New Year’s Resolutions that seems to make them destined to be broken? The answer is simple: we set ourselves up to fail. Resolutions are often made in the heat of the moment, perhaps at a New Year’s Eve party, or when we are at our lowest and are looking for something to make us feel better.
The New Year brings new possibilities and hope. Looking ahead at the year stretching before us is like looking at a blank canvas. You can paint a new picture on the canvas. Everything seems possible. The result of this is that we make resolutions that are not achievable or with no foundation in reality. We make resolutions that are wrong for us, and we make far too many.
Something happens to us when we make a resolution. We feel more positive and hopeful and we believe, in that moment, that we will achieve it. Very rarely do we ask ourselves how we are going to achieve it. Even more rarely do we ask ourselves WHY we want to achieve it.
Many of us have the same resolutions that come up time and time again that we never seem able to achieve. But how hard do we try? It takes no effort to make a resolution but it takes a lot of effort to keep it. The hard truth is that if we go on doing the same thing, we will get the same results. Achieving a goal, especially a long-term one, requires change. It requires planning and it requires action.
So how do we go about keeping our resolutions?
Make only one or two resolutions. If you are really not good at sticking to things, make just one resolution. Choose which one is the most important to you or is the most achievable and start with that.
Make short-term resolutions. ‘I want to be rich’ is too big and too vague. You may want it but what chance is there of getting it. ‘I plan to increase my monthly income by £100’ is much more achievable.
Make a timeline. ‘I plan to increase my monthly income by £100 by the end of March’. This gives you a timeframe to work in.
Make sure it’s the right resolution. Ask yourself why. Why do you want to increase your income? To have more money, to feel better about yourself, to get a better mortgage or a better deal on your car, to be able to give to charity? You may surprise yourself with the answer. You may have more than one answer. Then, ask yourself if having a bigger income is the only way you can achieve what you really want. Giving to charity doesn’t have to be about money, it could be about time, or donations of clothes and food, etc. If feeling better about yourself is part of your answer, there may be a number of ways in which you can achieve this.
Plan how you are going to achieve it. Perhaps brainstorm with a friend or colleague. Write ideas down, both mundane ones and outlandish ones. If your reason for increasing your income is to make more money available to you, then getting another job, increasing your work hours, asking for a rise may be the first things you consider. However, there may be other options that are less obvious. Review all your outgoings and see where you can save money. You could share car trips and save on petrol, you could look for cheaper food options at the supermarket. Changing suppliers for essentials such as heating, insurance, phone and internet can make a massive difference and may give you that extra £100 per month to spend without having to work extra hours or change jobs. I once saved £1600 per year by doing this.
Make sure there is a reward. Immediate rewards are the best. Reducing annual bills may give a more long-term effect but rewards in the moment are good. It may be the good feeling you get when you come off the phone after rearranging a reduced price with a supplier. It may be a treat you promise yourself after achieving a particular step. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit suggests breaking your goal down into 3 areas – Cue, Routine and Reward. Identify the routine of any particular habit. Then, identify the reward it gives you. This may be harder to do than you think. There may seem to be a number of rewards but one will predominate. Then, identify the cue that drives the need for the habit. Once that is all identified, you can look for other alternative routines that give you a similar reward.
Keep track. Knowing your progress is more likely to help you achieve your goal. It also allows you to reassess your goal and adjust it if necessary.
Make it easy for yourself. Don’t over-complicate it. The easier the steps to reach your goal, the easier it will be to take them.
Give yourself a break. Don’t berate yourself every time you miss dong something towards your goal. Many of us give up at this point, thinking ‘What’s the point? I’ve already broken my resolution, it’s too hard.’ Well, none of us are perfect. Just start afresh. Look at why you broke it and do something about it.
If you can’t change yourself, change the situation. Habits are incredibly hard to break. Otherwise they wouldn’t be habits. But you can make new habits. Look at what needs to change. If you find it hard to change yourself, is there something about your situation you can change? If you need more time in the day to achieve your goal, can you find it somewhere? Is there something you do that you can stop doing? Can you get up an hour earlier? Is there someone who can help you? Could you share tasks with a neighbour or friends, e.g. shopping for groceries, picking up the children from school, walking the dog.
Of course, everyone is different. Everyone has different triggers, different lifestyles, different commitments. Change is rarely easy, but it is possible. Using the above suggestions, take some time to work out what it is you really want and why you want it. Then, take an action towards it. According to Lau Tsu, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.
Take that first step!