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Making New Years Resolutions? Here’s why you shouldn’t bother.

Image credit Ian Schneider

It’s the start of December and I’m already hearing people talk about New Years Resolutions! Many of us feel the pressure (and the possibility) of a New Year approaching and pick something we want to change in our lives. We announce it to the world and, ready or not, off we go!

Spoiler alert. If you are going to launch into a conversation with me about your 2018 Resolutions, here’s what i’ll say; You are probably not ready. It’s not that I don’t have faith in you, but science tells me you are likely to fail (81% of new years resolutions fail) , and in fact are likely to end up worse than before your resolution!

And here’s something that may surprise you. Your failure won’t be because you lacked self control or willpower. In fact, those things are rendered pretty useless in the successful formation of habits. Have you ever noticed that when you really try not to do something, like eat cake, that sooner or later you wind up face down in a plate full of cake? It’s as if the temptation and exertion of will power has exhausted you to the point of deciding that eating the cake was the actually the better option in the first place.

Self control and willpower usually fail or have short term gains only. And studies have shown that those who self report as having good self control don’t actually use self control. They just aren’t even tempted in the first place. Why? Well several factors are responsible but a main contributor is that they have good habits. Or, they have an absence of bad habits. They are NOT tempted to go through the McDonald’s drive through for a frappe every morning because they don’t have a habit of doing so. It’s simply not on their radar.

This is good news people! This means we don’t need need self control or willpower. We need good habits.

So yes, there is still work to be done, but if you play your cards right you won’t have to rely on willpower anymore.

Cultivating habits

Whatever it is, weight loss, diet changes, exercise goals, a resolution to quit smoking or take up knitting, you will need habits to help you achieve your goal. And if you think about it, most New Years resolutions involve making or breaking a habit anyway. If your New Years resolution is to run a marathon in 2018 then you’ll need to cultivate a habit of running to achieve it.

You can’t make a resolution or a goal without a plan. Otherwise you are planning to fail!

So if you still want to make changes in the New Year you need a few key things to create habits that will last the distance.

1. Go small

You know the saying ‘go hard or go home?’. Well that certainly doesn’t apply here! You gotta go small. Pick one area you want to change. And then pick one small thing you can do to get you there.

One of the habits I want to build next year is a writing habit. Writing every day. That’s it. My New Year’s goal is to sit down and write for 5 mins every day. Of course I’d prefer to make the goal 1000 words (sounds way better than 5 minutes) but if I do that, chances are very high that I’ll fail before the first week is done. And it snowballs from there – ‘oh well, I didn’t write yesterday so it doesn’t matter if i don’t today either, i’ll start fresh tomorrow’ (you know how this one ends).

We need to get it snowballing the other way! If I manage to stick to 5 minutes every day for the next week, that will motivate me to continue. Then maybe in week two and can up that to 10 minutes a week. Eventually, I’ll sit down to write 1000 words effortlessly.

2. Habit stack

Habit stacking works in a couple of ways. Firstly, if you have a new habit you want to form then the best way of doing this is to add it onto another habit you have. Your previous habit is an anchor which grounds the new one in place. You are adding it to a habit that has become a routine so its more likely to stick.

The easiest example here is flossing your teeth. You more than likely have a habit of brushing your teeth, so simply add flossing them onto the start or finish of this routine. You may need a visual reminder to help with this too so make sure the floss is next to your brush, not hidden in a drawer.

3. Reward yourself

Nope, I don’t mean go reward yourself with a donut because you went for a half hour walk. The reward needs to be you encouraging yourself and literally patting yourself on the back. I just walked for half an hour, I’m flipping amazing! Yes, it’s as corny as it sounds. But according to science, if we want to rewire our brains and lay down the neural pathways for new habits – we must reward ourselves with something our brain will start to crave.

I have a great running habit. Actually it’s not just a habit, it’s a love affair. But it definitely didn’t start out that way. Barely being able to run between lamp posts, body aching for days after, I never imagined it would stick. But the rewards are huge. I feel the physiological part – the endorphin rush, and the psychological sense of accomplishment. And handy bonus, it lowers my anxiety. I literally crave a good run now. 

So this year I encourage you to ditch New Years resolutions and take up (or put down) a habit. It doesn’t need to be running either! Here are a few other ideas that might tempt you:

  • Drink 2 glasses of lemon water before your coffee everyday
  • Eat 3 cups of vegetables a day
  • Clean up your kitchen every night
  • Quit habitual TV watching (the kind that happens while you are on your phone and eating at the same time)
  • Leave your keys in exactly the same place every time you walk in your house!

There are so many great habits to start cultivating. Let me know what you are planning on doing!