So many of us explicitly or implicitly think of ways to improve ourselves or our lives as the new year begins. It feels like a chance for us to reflect on the past, think about the future, and maybe start over – whether in big ways or small ways. Many of us may solidify our reflections into New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes these may end up materializing but it’s all too common to hear about resolutions that have failed after a few days, weeks or months of trying.
Why is it so hard to maintain our New Year’s resolutions? Here are a few thoughts that you can keep at the back of your mind if your resolutions don’t work out as planned this year:
- Readiness for change. You just might not be ready for the change you want to bring in your life. Change theory dictates that there are stages to changing a habit. The well-researched “Transtheoretical Model of Change” explains a contemplation stage following a pre-contemplation stage, in which we start thinking about making a change. Next comes the determination and action stages, in which we make our minds up to enact the change and then act on it. This may be followed by a maintenance change if we can keep up with the change, and/or a relapse stage if we go back to our old ways. This model is often used to assess patients’ readiness to quit smoking or drinking alcohol in a doctor’s office, but it can be applied to a lot of other spheres of life. This model can explain why it is so hard to quit an old habit cold turkey. You must be ready for action when you are taking it. If you find yourself relapsing into your old habit, you may not have given the change enough thought before trying to make it happen.
- The size of your goals. While positivistic speak often discusses dreaming big, when setting goals, it is helpful to keep them bite-sized and achievable. If your goal is realistic, and you can achieve it, it serves as motivation to continue with goal-setting. You can have a bigger end-goal in mind, but it is a good idea to break it down into more realistic sub-goals. For example, you may want to lose 20% of your total weight. Instead of aiming to cut down 20% in the new year with a crash diet that you fail, leading to lost motivation for further weight loss, how about setting a goal to cut down sodas and fruit-juices from your diet, with the aim of eventually attaining a healthy weight for yourself? Once you’ve gone a few weeks without sugary drinks in your everyday diet, celebrate this achievement and consider adding another small and specific healthy lifestyle change towards your end-goal of weight loss.
- You’re not a new person starting January 1st. While that may be desirable for some of us, most of us remain exactly the same person that we were on December 31st. We can’t just all of a sudden become wise spenders, fit athletes, good cooks or better spouses, even if those are ideal goals for us. Any change takes time, energy, patience, and most importantly, conscious effort on our part. Again, it’s important to start with small and specific ways to change ourselves, while being forgiving if we don’t wake up a new person on New Year’s Day.
The point of this first post of 2019 is to remind ourselves to be forgiving if we are not able to turn over a new leaf when we get up from bed on January 1st. Change is hard. So, think deeply about whether you are ready for the change you seek. If you are, keep your goals small and specific. And, all the while, remind yourself that you are still the same person in the new year, so you must be patient and committed in order to achieve your new year’s goals.