How to stick to those New Year’s resolutions

Hands up if you have made a New Year’s resolution. If you have, brilliant! Because you have asked yourself the question that rarely gets asked – What do I really want?

But if I were to ask you in two weeks or one month, how many of you would still be sticking to it?

Resolutions can be a double-edged sword. Research shows that around a quarter of people give up after the first week, and fewer than one in ten make it to the end of the year.¹

We are fantastic at setting lines in the sand as a starting point (diets always start on a Monday), and this is no surprise as we have had a lot of practice. In 46BC Julius Caesar declared the new year to begin on the 1st January and simultaneously urged his people to make promises for personal improvement.

But we are simply not as good at sticking to them. To understand why we need to look at what can affect our behaviour. For me, resolutions have two main pitfalls:

Find the ‘Why’

When we say we want a certain thing, often it is because there is a greater desire underpinning it and forming the real reason. For example, if you resolve to stop smoking, is it because you want to be healthier, save money, be fitter, or for another reason? To achieve lasting success, we need to understand the real reason why we want to stop. We need to feel what it would be like if we didn’t stop or how great it would feel if we did.

There is no stronger motivation than a real sense of purpose behind what we are doing or want to do. Once we really feel that purpose, we increase our chance of avoiding…

The ‘cold turkey’ effect

Unless you have superhuman willpower (which many people tell me they have got), it is likely at some point you will crack and revert to the existing habit that you were trying to break. Put simply, how we think drives how we feel, and how we feel drives how we behave. To affect a change in our behaviour in line with our resolution, we need some leverage to make us want to do it.

Positive leverage (or motivation) works by painting a picture of what we want, and then we aspire towards it. The clearer and more detailed we can get that picture, the more likely and faster we are going to change our behaviour. If you want to buy a new car, really picture the car. Think about how you would feel driving it, what kind of car you would get, what colour, what would people say when they saw it etc.

This becomes your purpose and the ‘why.’

Pressure’s off

If it doesn’t work for you and you can’t stick to your resolution, then don’t beat yourself up! Perhaps it means that you didn’t really want the thing in the first place? Or it could only mean that your first attempt didn’t work, which is fine. Plan A is simply your best guess at what will work with the information you have at hand at the time. Some of the best inventions,
creations and successes have come from Plan B-Z and beyond! Not getting it right first time doesn’t mean failure.

Things worth having rarely come easy and don’t let the pressure to succeed get to you. All that changes is the “when” and not the “if”.

In the words of the great basketball player Michael Jordan: “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen”, the only question that remains is…which one are you?

  1. The science of how to keep your New Year’s resolutions by Sarah Knapton. The Telegraph Online Jan 3rd 2020.