Each year, millions of people across the world make a pledge to themselves. A pledge to become a better version of themselves. Yet, in just a couple of weeks’ time, the vast majority of people crumble. That same pledge, which, just a few weeks ago felt like a proven recipe for success, now seems on the brink of failure. By mid-February each year, more than 80% of New Year’s resolutions, which were started in earnest just 6 weeks earlier, have been shelved.
A YouGov poll conducted in December 2017 found that the two most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2018 were to: (1) eat better; and (2) exercise more. The other three resolutions making up the top five included: (3) to spend less money; (4) self-care (i.e. get more sleep); and (5) to read more books.
Most of us know that we should be doing more to stay healthy, including eating and drinking better and exercising more, yet many of us invariably lose our motivation to stick to our New Year’s resolutions – life simply gets in the way. But why is it that so many of us fail to stay the course? You would think that we would have the prefect recipe for success by now. Is it down to willpower alone? Or is there something more fundamental at play?
Focus on the good
A lack of willpower can certainly play a part. Studies show that when we are negatively stressed our willpower reserves dwindle and we are less able to exert control over our impulses. That can prove problematic in high pressure environments where cortisol levels are sky high. Trying to resist that cookie habit can prove almost impossible if you’re worrying about a big project deadline at work.
However, relying on willpower alone is where many of us make a fundamental mistake. The goals we set ourselves tend to be black or white. I must lose 5lbs or I must exercise 3 times a week. Does that sound familiar? Only, if you notice the wording being used, you’ll notice it feels more like a chore than a choice. We are so focused on achieving the end goal that we forget to enjoy the journey itself. And if we don’t enjoy the journey, then it is no wonder that the majority of us give up on reaching our goals. We need willpower to do the things that we don’t enjoy. Whereas, if we take pleasure in the things that we do, we don’t need to enlist copious amounts of willpower.
A simple thing you could try is to focus on all the things you enjoy about the process. Rather than simply focusing on the negatives, challenge yourself instead to find the positives. There will be some, you simply need to shift your focus. Make it feel like a choice rather than a chore. While it may sound simple (and it is), many of us are prone to making the fundamental mistake of focusing our attention to the bad. It doesn't mean that it's going to be easy, but it will be much easier if you start to actually enjoy what you're doing.
The other problem with a lot of the resolutions that we make, is that they are not ‘our’ resolutions. They are merely things that we believe might make us happier or a better version of ourselves, even if just temporarily (such as in the case of Dry January). We don’t necessarily get excited at the prospect of achieving them.
When was the last time you got truly excited about a New Year’s resolution? So excited that you couldn’t wait to get started? What if this year, instead of focussing on the mainstream, you chose to do something that was true to you. Something you could get excited about. Something that reflects the things you deem important and that you value. Invariably, you will be far more successful at sticking to a resolution if you value it. Perhaps you should ask yourself what it is that you value the most and how your resolution will help promote those core values.
It might be that ‘Dry January’ is a catalyst for positive change that you do value, but you are so focussed on it being a chore that you forget the very reason you made the pledge in the first place.
Stick with it
Lastly, we often quit when we don’t feel like we’re making enough progress. We tell ourselves, that perhaps we will never be good at it. We often forget how long it can take to get good at something. Just because we haven’t mastered it yet, doesn’t mean we won’t. In fact, the science suggests that most of us can become good at pretty much anything if we put in enough effort and adopt the right approach.
Be honest with yourself. Is your approach the right one? What have other people, who have mastered what you are trying to achieve, done to succeed? Perhaps you aren’t approaching it in the right way? Find a role model and don’t be afraid to do things differently, until you find a way that does work for you.