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Why New Years Resolutions don't work

This is it, you’ve set yourself a resolution for the year and nothing can get in your way. For the first couple of weeks, you stick to the plan and avoid all temptation, by week 3 you are struggling to keep your motivation high and in week 4 you’ve fallen off the wagon. You’re not alone - a study from the University of Bristol found that about 9 out of every 10 people who make New Year's resolutions fail. Even worse, According to U.S. News & World Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February.

So what’s going wrong and how do you improve your chances of being able to achieve your goals this year? There are a few key reasons why resolutions fail.

The goal is too vague – The most common 2019 resolutions in the UK were to exercise more, lose weight, improve the diet and save money. A goal like this is a good start but none of them go anywhere near far enough to articulate exactly what the goal is. It's not precise which means you won't know when you've reached it or if you're making progress towards it

You have unrealistic expectations – You may want to look like Hugh Jackman by Easter but chances are that it’s not going to happen. The diet industry in particular is built off promising quick fixes like fat burner teas and diet shakes, and after a while we start to believe the marketing hype. Real changes take time, and are built off making small improvements, consistently, for long periods of time. If it took you 5 years of over eating and under-exercising to get where you are now, you can’t expect to have a cover model body in a few weeks

You are focusing on outcomes instead of behaviours - An outcome describes the end point you want to achieve while behaviours are the specific habits that will get you there. For example, lose 5 Kgs is an outcome but going to the gym 3 times per week, and eating 5 portions of fruit & veg per day are behaviours. Any new goal requires you to do something differently otherwise you would have achieved it already and this means you have to change your habits in a way that’s going to help you move towards your goal, day by day and week by week. Thinking in terms of habits is a very powerful tool for any change you need to make in life, nothing will change your future like your habits

You forget about it – Eventually we all fall back into our normal routine, life gets in the way and we forget all about our January resolution until next January comes back around

So, what can you do about all of this?

Here’s a step by step approach that will dramatically improve your chances of achieving your new yeas resolution or any other goals you have. Grab a pen and paper and take 10 minutes to work through it with your own goal. If you have multiple then choose the one that’s most important for you to achieve this year. Trying to implement too many goals at once means you are unlikely to achieve any so be very single-minded with it.

1. Write down your outcome goal and why it’s important for you to achieve it. The more emotional and personal the reason the better as it will help you keep motivated in the months ahead

2. Reword your goal. Use positive language and make sure it is measurable, realistic and has a timeframe against it.

  • I want to lose weight” is a bad outcome goal

  • I will lose 5 Kg's by June” is a good outcome goal

3. Work out what behaviours and habits you need to develop to help you reach the goal and write them all down. Each one should be small and feel easily achievable. If any of them don’t feel easy then reduce them down to something smaller. Somewhere between 5-10 individual habits are a good start for any big change. For the example above your first 3 habits might be:

  • I will go to the gym 2 times per week

  • I will eat 5 portions of fruit and veg per day

  • I will take the stairs at work every day instead of the lift

4. Consider any barriers that might get in the way (for example in your work and home environment) and think of ways you can remove them or work around them. If you get tempted by chocolate in work then one of your habits might be to keep healthy snacking options at your desk so you can eat them instead

5. Write your goal, your reason for doing it and the specific daily and weekly habits you’ve identified on a piece of paper. Put it somewhere where you’ll see it every day as a constant reminder

6. Pick one habit at a time and start working on it every day and every week. But here's the trick, choose just 1 habit at a time and work on it until you're confident that you’ve got that habit nailed (usually after 2-4 weeks). When it feels like you're doing it automatically and you could do more then you layer in habit 2 and do the same for 2-4 weeks, and repeat. Approaching it like this gets you focusing your efforts on the habits rather than the outcome, and allows you to build the habits up over months which is way more sustainable in the long run.

Here's how it might look when you are done:

This is very similar to the process I use with my clients, I work with them at the beginning to get clearer on their health & fitness goal then set out a series of proven daily and weekly habits that will help them reach it. Working with them week by week we then implement each new habit one at a time, working around the barriers and any other family and work commitments that come along. The result is big change without the mental suffering that often comes with new diet and exercise plans. So over to you, what goals will you set this year and what habits will help you get there?

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice.” - Octavia Butler
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