What makes a successful resolution?
New Year, new start... If you are thinking of making one or more New Year's resolutions this year, you'll be in good company. Many Britons will be doing the same, yet for every person who reaches their target weight or stops smoking, there will be many health and fitness DVDs resigned to the darkest corner of the closet.
The making of New Year's resolutions is not a new thing. Psychologically, the turning of the year can be a powerful motivation to change. We've all heard of the phrase 'out with the old and in with the new' – there is little that can represent a fresh start as much as a new year. It is a healthy thing to spend time in personal reflection, especially in this hectic world that we live in. Pinpointing areas in life that we want to change is also good, providing we refrain from being overly critical of ourselves, and if we can work with the motivation that January 1st brings, that is great.
According to the website Live Science, people under the age of 30 are more likely than older folks to make resolutions — but only about half of those will keep their promises. Figures quoted by the NHS suggest that only one in 10 of us will keep our resolutions – so why is it that these good intentions so often fall flat?
One problem is that New Year’s resolutions are often large changes and not things that can be achieved quickly. It can be difficult to keep momentum going until that goal is reached. Some of us will persevere and get there through sheer willpower. But why do the rest of us stop somewhere along the way? Research has shown that there are some common mistakes that people make, but the good news is that, with a little work, we can give ourselves the best chance of success.
1. Set realistic targets
Instead of trying to climb the mountain in one go, take one step at a time. Recognise the small achievements. 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.
Similarly, try to 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. Why not focus on the things you can actually change yourself, and be open to opportunities and chances when they arrive?
2. Plan ahead - know how to reach your goals and track your progress
Professor Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire tracked 5,000 resolution-makers, and made some interesting observations. "Many of the most successful techniques involve making a plan and helping yourself stick to it," says Prof. Wiseman. He said those who had achieved their target broke their goal into smaller goals and felt a sense of achievement when they achieved these.
If you want to save money for a wedding or holiday, you may need to assess your finances well in advance; reorganise 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.
You do not have to wait until New Year's Day to figure out how you are going to achieve your goals. Try to put into place those things you need to achieve, set those ongoing targets, and find those people you need to support you, whether those are friends and family or professionals. There are many websites and apps that can help you to track your progress.
3. Don't overdo it. Set a few goals, not a huge list of changes
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 and give it your full attention. Finder spokeswoman Michelle Hutchison has some good advice: "Be realistic with what you can achieve and don't set too many goals. It's OK to set more than one goal but if they are simple and obtainable they will more likely be reached."
4. Cut down on stress and get a better night's sleep
It is far easier to turn to comforting and potentially bad habits when we are stressed or tired. The effects of stress are well-documented; many physical processes can be triggered by our mental state. Even low levels of stress can lead to psychological changes such as depression, anxiety, confusion and sleep or sexual problems. Conversely, poor sleep can lead to increased stress levels and anxiety.
If you think you are suffering from high levels of stress in your life, try to find time out for yourself to relax and reduce that stress. Aside from benefiting your life in many ways, it will also help to keep you focused on your goals and resolutions.
5. Be kinder to yourself
Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time. Realise that it is OK to have a blip, that a temporary setback is not the same as a failure and not a reason to give up altogether. Figure out what went wrong, make adjustments and carry on!
Be kinder to yourself, stop beating yourself up about the things that you don't do or haven't done and learn to recognise your achievements more – and then, if there are changes you want to make, figure out how you are going to make them. Remember that you don't have to save them all up for the next New Year!
Finally, I wish you all a happy, healthy and fulfilling New Year!
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About John Taylor
I am a professional hypnotherapist based in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. I specialises in stress and anxiety, confidence building, sleep issues, weight-loss and smoking cessation.