I’m not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I often find that the excitement of the New Year fades, and the reality of every day life sinks in, leaving resolutions abandoned. Did you know that research shows only 8% of people actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions?!?! That’s ridiculously low!!
However, I do see a lot of value in writing down what you would like to achieve over the year, both personally and professionally. I do it with clients, I do it myself and I’m sure many of you have also used this time of year as an opportunity to set yourself some goals or targets.
So, if you have set yourself some New Year’s resolutions, or goals for the year, how do you make sure you’re in that 8% that succeed?
Being someone who achieves goals is a skill, it doesn't just happen. And the great thing about skills is that they can be learnt and developed by anyone.
Before you dive head first into your New Year’s resolutions, or a new goal, ensure you safeguard your success by reading on...
THE POWER OF YOUR HABITS
A habit is a routine or behaviour that is performed regularly, and is often (or eventually) done automatically.
It’s easy to underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. We convince ourselves that to succeed, we need to take a massive amount of action and this feels scary. Small habit changes may seem insignificant, especially at the beginning. However, in reality, it's the small changes we make or new habits we form that compound on each other and grow into BIG results.
One of the reasons it’s so hard to maintain new habits is that usually, we don’t see any tangible change in a 'suitable' timeframe. We often think: “I’ve been walking at lunchtime every day for 2 weeks so why haven’t I seen any change to my body?!”. This disappointment often leads to letting those good habits slide, or even completely abandoning the goal. In order to make any tangible or meaningful difference, we need to persist with habits through this plateau.
Here’s a visual for you:
Imagine you have an ice cube sitting on the table in front of you. The room is cold and you can see your breath. It is currently -7˚. Ever so slowly, the room begins to heat up.
-6˚, -5˚, -4˚...
The ice cube is still sitting in front of you.
-3˚, -2˚, -1˚...
Still nothing has happened.
Then, 0˚. The ice begins to melt. A one degree shift, seemingly no different from the temperature increases before it, has unlocked a huge change.
The moment where we begin to see the tangible change, is often the result of many previous actions. In other words, persistence is one of the keys to your success.
FOCUS ON THE PROCESSES
I tend to find that people become too focused on the end goal/result and don’t focus enough on the processes required to get you there. This often results in failure, and we don’t feel like we’re reaching our potential.
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Processes are what you’re going to do to get to those results.
For example, your goal might be to improve your sleep. The processes involved in reaching this goal might include putting down electronic devices at least an hour before you go to bed to help you unwind. Or, your goal might be to lose 5kg. The processes involved might include reducing the amount of sugar you have in your coffee or going for a walk after dinner at least 4 times a week.
If you focus on the process, the result will take care of itself. If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you, it’s your process. We repeat bad habits not because we don’t want to change, but because we have the wrong process.
We can all identify with the struggle to keep good habits going for more than a few days, even though you really want to reach the goal and you feel really motivated. Why is this?
1. We are trying to change the wrong thing (e.g. following a meal plan that doesn't allow for treats), or we set ourselves too many things to change at one time
2. We try to change our habits in the wrong way
We have ALL done the first one, and it’s usually fairly obvious to identify what we did wrong, however the second one is less obvious.
As we've discussed, many people begin the process of changing habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. Sounds logical and straight forward doesn’t it? Well, I’d like to get you to look at it from an angle you may not have considered...
Ask yourself who you would like to become.
This means your identity, your beliefs about your self image, and your judgments about yourselves and others. Most people don’t consider having to change their identity when they set out to achieve a goal. Let me explain:
Two people who have recently stopped smoking are offered a cigarette.
One says “No thanks, I’m trying to quit”. Whilst this seems a reasonable response, this person still believes they’re a smoker. They hope to change their behaviour without changing their beliefs.
The second person says “No thanks, I don't smoke.” I know it’s a small difference, but their statement signals a change in their beliefs about themselves. They no longer identify as a smoker.
You believe in the identity you have now only because you have proof of it. The more you repeat a new habit or behaviour, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behaviour. For example, when you exercise each day, whether it's going to the gym, dance class or for a walk, you embody the identity of an active person. Repeat these actions enough and your self image begins to change.
So, believe you are a healthy, active person when you are faced with dilemmas or situations and ask yourself “What would a healthy, active person do?” and see how it changes your achievements.
THE FINAL WORD
If you’d really like to achieve those New Year’s resolutions or any other goals this year, you need to make a commitment to changing the small, but key habits that have stopped you from achieving them in the past.
All clients that I coach are taught how to build new habits, and I support them through the journey. If you are coming to the end of January feeling like you’re going to fail on your New Year’s resolutions, or if you have a health goal that’s important to you but you’re unsure how to achieve it, get in touch and we can discuss ways in which I can help you ensure success.
The philosophies I’ve discussed in this article have been around for some time, so I cannot take credit for any of them. Both the ice cube and smoking analogies are taken from James Clear’s Atomic Habits.
If you have found this brief introduction to the mechanics of forming new habits interesting, I can highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg as some further reading.