We’re only a little way into the New Year, but already most New Year’s resolutions that were made have been broken. According to the stats, you’d be among only 5% of the population if you didn’t break your New Year’s resolutions by January 15th!
Why is it that it’s so hard for us to stick to our own plans and achieve goals we set for ourselves, even when we passionately want to create change in our lives?
The problem isn’t really that those things we want to achieve are unachievable. And we’re certainly not all losers destined for failure! No, the problem is more like a cluster of five major characteristics most of us have in common… And before you get all down about falling prey to all of these traps, there are ways of ensuring you don’t get ensnared!
1. We think in terms of push rather than pull
If we’re to reach our goals while resisting the temptation to fall back into old habits, then we need to be working towards something appealing. A lot of the time we’re really trying to escape something unappealing. We state our goals in terms of “lose weight”, “stop smoking”, or “find a partner”, for example. We’re really trying to get away from feeling unattractive, unhealthy or lonely. These are push factors, not pull factors.
Progress toward a goal is a far better motivator than trying to get away from where you’re at right now. You know what works better than aiming to lose weight? Signing up for an exercise class you enjoy, and holding yourself accountable to going to it every week. What works better than trying to stop smoking cold turkey? Seeing how long you can go between now and your next cigarette, challenging yourself to go longer each time. What works better than looking for a new partner? Nailing down what you want from a relationship, and only entertaining prospects that tick your boxes and don’t present any deal-breakers.
Don’t rely on willpower when it comes to meaningful change; it’s never as strong as the lure of familiar comfort. Make concrete plans to do things you can realistically see yourself sticking with over the long term. You’ll only stick with your plans if they give you a sense of meaning, purpose, and, heaven forbid, at least some enjoyment!
2. We set goals that are too vague to really achieve
We tend to present our goals as overall vision statements of how we want our future to be, without giving much attention to how we’re going to create that vision. It’s all well and good saying you want to lose weight, stop smoking, or find a partner, but how much weight? By when? At what point do you envision being a non-smoker? What characteristics are you looking for in your dream partner? Will Tinder actually present those possibilities? A vision without specifics ain’t going to happen because without specifics, there’s no basis for a plan.
Breaking our goals down into bite-sized chunks is a way of moving from the question of “what do I want?” to the all-important “how am I going to get it?” If your goal is to lose 5kg, then decide your timeframe – will you give yourself the whole year to do it, or just the first three months? Either way, it’s doable if you have a deadline you can work towards. It might be a matter of signing up for a weekly dance class and making sure you keep your sweet treats just for weekends – as rewards for the hard work of the week. If your goal is to be a non-smoker by the end of the year, start by trying to make it all the way through a movie without needing to pause for a ciggie. Then scale up that concept and stack your successes on firm foundations. If your goal is to meet a healthy, gainfully employed special someone in your age group who also loves cats, then filter your search accordingly – offline as well as online.
Whatever the details of your plan are, you need to nail down the nuts and bolts first so you can keep track of your progress.
3. We think too much in black and white terms
New plans are fun at the start – when they’re new. But soon they lose their shine, and give way to old habits. It’s just a whole lot easier to stick with doing the same things as before than it is to make change. Change takes emotional energy, and a lot of focus, and most of don’t have an awful lot of either of those things to spare. And once we’ve come off track, mostly we give up on change, thinking in all-or-nothing terms, instead of pacing ourselves. Instead of seeing a slip-up – you know, that one Wednesday night you went for a mid-week drink instead of going to yoga class – for what it is, we decide we’re fully off the wagon.
If we’re going to make progress, we need to first recognise that progress isn’t linear. If I were to plot my weight loss journey on a graph, we’d see a series or small spikes, both up and down, along the general downward continuum. We’d also see that change tends to happen in steps. Losing weight tends to move quickly at first, and then plateau for a while as the changes we’ve introduced lose their shine. And then there are those times when we indulge. We have to make a little space for special occasions and rewards if we’re to enjoy life’s little indulgences. But the overall trajectory should be downwards, as we keep up with our good habits and stack new ones on top of them once they’re firmly set.
If I quit trying because of that Wednesday night drink, that would be self-sabotage; that Wednesday drink might have been just what I needed to get me through a tough week, and maintain the emotional energy I needed to make meaningful change in my life.
4. We lack the confidence in our own ability to achieve success
Often we just don’t think we can do it. We’ve set lofty goals, and it all seems to big, too grandiose, too overwhelming. We need to break our goals down into bite-sized chunks so that we can tackle them and achieve small successes. Success is the best motivator because it improves our sense of competence, which in turn increases our confidence. The more little wins you have, therefore, the more confident you will feel in climbing your mountain.
Starting with your pull factor, being specific, and not jumping off the wagon because of a little wobble – these things will all help with your confidence. If you’re trying to quit smoking, your pull factor is not only healthy lungs, but also the motivational success of going longer and longer without each of your habitual cigarettes. If you’re aiming to increase the time between waking up and having your first cigarette, your confidence will grow as you stretch that craving period out for longer and longer before you cave to it. If you happen to slip back into old habits during a stressful week, or a night out with friends, your confidence will stay firm if you take control and make a mindful choice to cave to cravings for that period only, and resolve to start the next day or week anew, knowing that you’ve managed before.
Your little wins along the way will also be matched by a few losses, but overall you’ll see a pattern of increasing success. Your confidence will grow as your success does, in a virtuous cycle that sets in place a new habit pattern.
5. We don’t treat our goals as the priorities they deserve to be
Sometimes it seems like everything else in our life is more important than those life-affirming goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year. This is how people get all the way to the end of life with a bucket list as long as their arm. Until we actually start to view our goals as priorities, and make way for them in our schedules, they’ll stay forever in our imaginations.
Meeting your healthy, gainfully employed, cat-loving special someone has to find its way into your schedule if you’re going to have a chance at a happy-ever-after ending. You’re going to need to be purposeful. Go places healthy people go, at times gainfully employed people are able to go there, and drop your love of cats into the conversation early on. Make your mission a fun process of elimination, enlisting some wing-men/women for support, and a source of honest opinions.
The key components here, regardless the actual goal, are making sure you allocate realistic time and space in your schedule, and you have sounding boards and confidantes to cheerlead your progress and give you a boot up the bum when you need one. It will only become a genuine priority if you feel you share its importance to you with those who will support you on your journey.
So, now you know what’s holding you back, and have an idea of what might nudge you forward, it’s time to get cracking on your 2018 goals. We may be well past New Year, but there are 328 days left to go, and I’m pretty sure you can put them to good use no matter what you did with the last 37 😉
If you feel you could use some professional support with kicking your goals through the rest of this year, check out my New Year : New Pathway program, and see if you think it’s a fit for you.
If your goals are more specifically related to body image, have a looksie at my Rock Your Body Image program, and get in touch if you’d like my help in nurturing a more positive self-image.