New Year’s is the perfect time to turn a new page in your life, which is why so many people make New Year’s resolutions. Then, in a matter of weeks, 90% of them have promptly failed.
Over the next few weeks, you are going to witness an onslaught of ads for products designed to aid with every New Year’s resolution imaginable. They know that at this moment, you are pumped with possibility and are willing to succumb to the marketing of being supported in your overzealous endeavors.
Researchers have looked at success rates of peoples’ resolutions: the first two weeks usually go along beautifully, but by February, people are backsliding and by March most people are back where they started, by December, they are often behind where they started. This happens year, after year, after year.
There’s even a clinical psychology term for the cycle of repeated failed attempts to change ourselves: “False Hope Syndrome,” and it’s especially common for people who are trying to lose weight.
Think about that for a minute – resolving to change, followed by trying and failing, followed by a new set of resolutions that starts the cycle over again is so epidemic that the National Institute of Health has now defined it as a psychological condition.
This principle reflects that of making positive affirmations. When you make positive affirmations about yourself that you don’t really believe, the positive affirmations not only don’t work, they can be damaging to your self-esteem.
Why do so many people not keep their resolutions? Are people lacking will power or just lazy? According to researcher John Norcross and his colleagues, who published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, approximately 50% of the population makes resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction.
Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, says that resolutions are a form of “cultural procrastination,” an effort to reinvent oneself. People make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves, he says. Pychyl argues that people aren’t ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate. Another reason, says Dr. Avya Sharma of the Canadian Obesity Network, is that people set unrealistic goals and expectations in their resolutions.
The other aspect of failed resolutions lies in the cause and effect relationship. You may think that if you lose weight, or reduce your debts, or exercise more, your entire life will change, and when that isn’t the result, you may get discouraged and then you revert back to old behaviors.
Making resolutions work requires changing behaviors and to change behaviors, you have to understand your behavior, change your thinking and “rewire” your brain. Brain scientists such as Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux and psychotherapist Stephen Hayes have discovered, through the use of MRIs, that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, that become the new default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by “not trying to do it,” in effect just strengthens the old behavior. Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.
Let’s look at a resolution to stop drinking soda for example. If this is your new commitment, then now all your doing is thinking about soda all day and the fact that you cannot have it. That is not only maintaining the old thinking, but reinforcing it, while also not creating new thinking. Instead, flip it to “I’m going to drink two liters of water a day” you will now be thinking about getting your water in all day and In theory, too full and busy to think about a soda.
So, if you are going to make New Year’s resolutions, here are some tips to help you make them work:
- Focus on one resolution, rather several;
- Set realistic, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 pounds in 90 days is;
- Don’t decide on New Year’s Eve what your resolutions are. Make it a year-long process, reviewing and adjusting weekly;
- Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big requiring too big a step all at once; So the 10 lbs in 90 days example above, you could start with 1 lb in two weeks.
- Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to;
- Celebrate your success between milestones. Don’t wait for the goal to be finally completed;
- Focus your thinking on new behaviors and thought patterns. You have to create new neural pathways in your brain to change habits;
- Focus on the present. What’s the one thing you can do today, right now, towards your goal?
- Be mindful. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens, moment by moment, rather than living in the past or future.
Want to create even more opportunity for success? Don’t make resolutions, decide instead to commit to create new habits. Here are a few examples based on the most common resolutions.
Resolution: Quit smoking vs. Habit: Stop smoking that 1 cigarette you have every morning after breakfast.
Resolution: Eat healthy food vs. Habit: Start substituting that 1 daily morning pastry for a banana.
Resolution: Lose weight vs. Habit: Every evening after work, go for a 2-3 minute run or walk around the block. (no gym, no special equipment) just walk outside and faster than usual.
Resolution: Manage stress vs. Habit: Meditate for 2-3 minutes every morning after you wake up.
Here are the top 16 resolutions that people typically make:
- Lose weight
- Quit smoking
- Quit drinking
- Get out of debit
- Save money
- Spend less
- Eat healthy
- Get organized
- Spend more time with family and friends
- Manage stress better
- Enjoy life
- Stop procrastinating
- Learn a new language
- Spend less time on FB/TV
- Run a half or full marathon
Looking at this list, you’ll notice people are not picking specific behaviors, they are picking abstractions. Any abstract goal you have, that is not tied to a specific behavior, is nearly impossible for your brain to focus on. Making it “instinctual,” the crucial aspect for success that will help you make a new habit, is missing in 90% of all New Year’s resolutions, making them so likely to fail.
Not only are they abstractions, they are also often something you actually do not even care about, but you think you “should.” You should lose weight, you should stop smoking, but if you don’t actual care about losing weight and you actually enjoy smoking, it will never happen because you do not really want it to, so don’t bother making it. And that’s ok! We would all be better off if we would stop “shoulding” on ourselves!
If you are truly ready to Moxify your 2017, I’d like to recommend that instead of setting resolutions, or even habits, that we reframe them into specific goals. Resolutions are superficial, this is why they so quickly fail. The psychology of how we phase things resonates in our intentions, so if can reframe what we want to achieve as something to go towards, instead of something we are restricting, we are setting ourselves up for success. Focusing on what you can do instead of what you can’t. Be:
Cut spending for example
This one is very popular but it requires a lot of thinking through that most people don’t do. First of all, to spend less, you need to know what you’re spending to know that you are, in fact, spending less of it. Once you carve out the “essential” spending, mortgage/rent, power, water, food then we can look at where all the rest is going. Keeping in mind, the essentials are adjustable too. You can move to a less expensive place, cut back on water and power usage, and food is very flexible category… and these are the essentials!
If you read any of these and thought “yeah, that’s not gonna happen,” you may in fact not really be interested in saving money. Maybe your true interest is simply in having more money to spend. If you can tie that to something specific to spend it on (10 days in sourthern Italy) something you can attach a price tag to, you will then have a concrete reason to aim toward. If this is the case then the goal would be to take a 10 day trip to Italy in summer 2018 and then by happy coincidence, any money saved goes directly to the trip budget.
A lot of people will be resolving to spend less on restaurants, takeout, and delivery this year. A new survey showed that 45% of Americans cite food costs as their biggest budget buster, which proves that for one reason or another, eating out is a really easy trap for many of us to fall into.
So instead of focusing on cutting spending, let’s rephrasing this into making more home cooked meals. This new intention supports not only saving money, but also affects other likely resolutions we may have such as eating healthier and losing weight. Once you have reviewed your spending and assembled a budget based on what you actually have been spending, draft a detailed plan that looks ahead and assesses the past.
Why didn’t your financial resolutions work last year? Build any new awareness into this years plan, including the new budget line-item for that 10 days in Italy so you can actually see, if I cut this $50 a month habit, I can add $50 a month to my trip account! That’s $600 from what may be a simple once a week Starbucks habit. Pack your lunch a few days a week, save $1,200!
Another favorite resolution- Enjoy life… what does that even mean?
Manage stress, travel, spend less time on tv/fb, all can be collapsed into this “wish” so how do we make it occur for us? First we have to decide what, exactly, we find enjoyable. Ask someone what they enjoy during a casual conversation and people are paralyzed. Once they start talking they’ll quickly end up talking about “remembering when they used to love… fill in the blank- reading, hiking, painting, cooking, running,” etc. But instead we are now busy… just busy, too busy and no one can justify why.
Traveling to other countries will help gain perspective on how silly we look constantly rushing around, eating in our cars, rushing here and there, for what? Half the time we can’t figure that out either. It has become terribly distorted.
So now what do we do… we are going to spend money on getting it going because it makes you accountable to yourself because it is costing you something.
1. Get yourself a new hard copy of a 2017 calendar. Stationary shops like the Paper Source and the like have large, fun selections. Why hard copy instead of in your phone? Hard copy makes you manually write what you want, which registers in your brain and you are also reading it while you write, which registers in your brain and more times that not you’re saying it to yourself as well, which registers in your brain. Starting out the year being committed to your time, adding your new specific goals and having a place to write your mission statement or theme for the year, is powerful.
So every time you add something new to the calendar, you read that statement to yourself to make sure this new addition to the calendar aligns with your new commitments. If you are comfortable (and can thrive) with less structure, look into bullet journaling. It takes more time up front, but once you get the hang of it, most refuse to use any other method. www.bulletjournal.com
2. If you don’t have Quicken to track your money, get it. It will help you budget, keeps everything organized, you can build goals into, makes taxes a breeze and you can see instantly if you are straying and is a breeze to set-up.
3. Set aside thirty minutes a week on a day off (like a quiet Sunday morning with coffee) to work in your hard copy calendar. Actually make an appointment with yourself in your calendar for this. Review your week, look at where you are in your goal achievement. Add short-term goals to get you further along, revisit your commitments for the week and eliminate anything unnecessary, delegate what you can and make sure you are at the top of the list of people to do things for.
4. If you do have some disposable income, get a cleaning service, like a MaidPro for flexibility. The amount of time and stress you are relieved of gives you an opportunity to make significant strides. A cleaning service will clean more things, get it done faster and more effectively and you get to return home telling yourself how much you love cleaning days.
2017 is here. We are gifted the privilege of a brand new year, with no scratches or stains, to create what we decide we really want to have now, not later. The time is going to pass anyway, don’t let another year pass where you can look back unable to identify significant accomplishments. Now go, get that coffee going and start planning!
As Glinda says to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Let me know!
Julie Koester is CEO of Life with Moxie, a Lifestyle Revolution Company www.lifewithmoxie.com and Host of Life with Moxie Radio, Saturday’s at 1pm on 98.9 WGUF in Southwest Florida. You can reach her at Julie@lifewithmoxie.com
Passionate Living by Design, That’s Life with Moxie
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