It’s that time of year again – New Year resolutions are in place and you are working hard at keeping yourself on track. Maybe you have planned to lose weight, give up smoking or eat healthier, perhaps the goal you set was to go one step further and overhaul your life.
It may have sounded like a great idea on January 1st but in reality, when we return to work or children go back to school it can be harder to keep our New Year resolutions.
According to research by the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, just 8 per cent of people succeed. So how can you be one of them?
1. Choose the right time
It may be the obvious time of the year to make resolutions, but it’s not necessarily the right time. Why not take the pressure off and start mid-January? “There’s no hurry,” says James Parnell of The Wellbeing Gym. “Besides, every resolution is a long-term investment. Keep the timeframe short and review your progress at various intervals along the way.”
2. Preparation is key
Your New Year resolution is like any other challenge. Make a realistic plan and stick to it. “Buddy up with someone else who is making the same change or tell someone who you will be accountable to,” suggests James. “Make a habits checklist – a simple calendar for the first 30 days so you can tick off your successful days. “Plan in advance how you will reward yourself when – rather than if - you succeed,” he adds.
3. Forget major life changes
Keep it simple. Instead of trying to change your life overnight – which, let’s face it, is highly unlikely to happen, aim to develop habits over a period of time. Be realistic. Think about something that’s genuinely achievable.
“Break your resolution down to something which still requires a change in your normal behaviour, but which you know you can do,” says James. “It’s not only less daunting, but you’ll be more likely to succeed.”
4. Break the habit
It is easier to completely break a habit than to reduce it because changing habits involves a physical change in your brain. If you’re making a new habit, you need to expend energy to build new pathways in the brain. “If you’re breaking an old habit it’s actually more sensible to remove it from your life completely for a period of time” says James. Take chocolate for example. When reducing your consumption, eating a bar of chocolate twice a week continues to strengthen your established habit. “If you want to cut down, it may work better to give it up altogether for a short period of time and then reintroduce it with predetermined rules and limits,” says James.
5. Replace bad habits with new ones
Once you have broken the habit, replace it with a new one which adds value to your life. “It always helps to associate a new habit with the same time and place, says James. “This reduces your dependence on willpower and makes the action more automatic.
6. Cultivate the right attitude
The right attitude is everything when it comes to keeping your New Year resolutions. “Talk to yourself in a positive manner,” says James. “Your subconscious is your slave. Say, ‘I feel great now that I no longer eat chocolate,’ for example and your subconscious will do its best to make that come true.”
7. What if you fail?
If you fail, be gentle on yourself but also recognise if you are making excuses. “Remember what’s happening in your brain,” says James. “Revisit your motivation for committing to the New Year resolution and think about how great it will feel when you succeed. Then pick yourself up and try again.”
James Parnell is the founder of The WellBeing Gym, which provides offline and online workplace wellness, performance, productivity and innovation programmes, as well as personal life coaching.