Please join me in not making resolutions in 2017
I invite you to join me in making no resolutions this year. At the start of a new year, change is in the air and many people may begin to focus on what they would like to happen in their lives over the coming months. This is commonly the time to be considering new year's resolutions. But I'm not going to make them this year, and I'll tell you why.
Put simply, they don't work. You'll hear a lot of advice on how to best keep resolutions, but the sad fact is that by January 17th (known, by the way, as ditch new year's resolutions day) only around one in 10 of us will still be on the path to keeping them.
People see the new year as a clean slate and an opportunity to finally have the life they want, but resolutions often fail because people are also over-optimistic about their ability to change. It is easy to get swept along with the determination to fix everything at once but the genuine commitment to do so is often not there.
As a species, we are not particularly good at big changes. Take the part of the brain responsible for willpower, for example, (it's the pre-frontal cortex, if you're interested, located just behind the forehead). The pre-frontal cortex has many other things to worry about besides new year's resolutions - it is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems. Asking it to lose weight is often asking it to do one thing too many. To give your brain a whole list of changes in January is like trying to run a marathon when you are used to walking to the shop.
Most of us assume that self-control is largely down to our character and that we would be successful with our new year's resolutions if only we had more discipline. But research suggests that willpower itself is limited and that our January promises fail largely because our brains were not built for resolution success. Everybody knows that our muscles have practical limitations: if we ask them to lift too much, they can give out and we'll drop everything. And just as our muscles get tired after sustained exercise and need a rest, so too does the pre-frontal cortex need a break.
So this year, instead of looking at all of the things you want to change ask yourself the question 'Who do I really want to be?' Take stock of your life. We sometimes get bogged down in what we think we should be or what others want us to be, and the 'real' us becomes suppressed. This can lead to the coping strategies we know as 'bad' habits – but every bad habit serves a purpose. By focusing on yourself you can begin to identify what you really need and help to eradicate negative behaviours for good. Until we change what’s going on inside us, we cannot change what’s happening outside.
If you then find things that you want to change then try these tips:
Don't try to change everything at once. Many people start the new year with a long 'shopping list' of changes they want to make. It is far better to focus on one change at a time and give it your full attention. Be realistic in what you can achieve and don't set too many goals.
Set realistic targets. Instead of trying to climb the mountain in one go, take one step at a time. Recognise the small achievements. You might find it easier to break your goal into smaller targets and can then feel a sense of achievement when you reach these. If you want to lose a few stone in weight, aim for a healthy, maintainable weight loss of one to two pounds a week instead of hoping to lose it all by the end of January.
Set goals that are within your control. Much as it might be great to meet the partner of our dreams or win the lottery, there is a large element of chance in these. Changes need to be realistic, and this includes timescales. Why not focus on the things you can actually change yourself, and be open to opportunities and chances when they arrive?
Plan ahead - know how to reach your goals and track your progress. Maybe reorganize your day to make more time for exercise; find a diet or stop smoking buddy – research has shown that those with a good support network are more likely to succeed.
Know when to ask for help. This could be support from friends, families or professionals.
I'll be running a series of free talks at my clinics in Skipton and Northallerton - I'm sure your local therapists will be doing something similar. Go along, find out who can help you be the best you! Therapy does not have to be scary or difficult, it can also be fun and inspiring. Go have fun! And happy 2017.
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About John Taylor
John is an established psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and BWRT® practitioner with clinics in Skipton, Harrogate and Northallerton, North Yorkshire. He specialises in stress and anxiety issues, confidence building, phobias.