“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself.” -Muhammad Ali
How are you getting on with your New Year’s resolutions? Is it New Year, New You? Or New Year, Same Old You? A new year begins, and for some a new regime commences with boundless enthusiasm lapsing into the “what-seems-inevitable” failure shortly afterwards. Sound familiar? Well, recent research by the University of Bristol suggests that 88 per cent of New Year’s resolutions fail and within just a few weeks at that! With such a high failure rate, the odds are stacked against us.
I used to fall prey to this pattern of failure too. In my case, I often give up in the first couple of days or a week at the most. Even after the previous year’s failure, I would still continue to jump on the bandwagon again the following year. Surely this new year will be different, right? Well, maybe…
I don’t disagree with the principle of making a New Year’s Resolution or challenges—any opportunity to make a positive lifestyle change is a good thing, and some individuals do make a success of this over the long term. Bad habits are notoriously difficult to break. It isn’t about a weakness of character but rather a limited ability to control willpower.
There are several studies looking at the psychology of willpower—one leading scientist in this area is Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University. He compares willpower to muscle. Just as you can overload a muscle, so too can you overload willpower beyond its ability to cope—the more we ask the brain to do, the less we have left over to deal with other mental tasks such as making important lifestyle decisions.
Other studies reference the fact that our willpower is like a battery, which needs to be recharged each day, thus stressing the importance of sleep and taking breaks. It’s one reason why sometimes after a hard day at work, it is far easier to want to do nothing apart from slouching on the couch and eating junk. In effect, you have used up your battery power for the day.
So is there anything we can do to make it easier? I use a series of steps that work for my clients that increases the rate of success when making a significant lifestyle change. (I also cover some steps on motivation in my book “Paleo Fitness”.)
Here are 10 steps you can take to mitigate the risk of failure:
1. Make only one resolution. Your chances of success are greater when you focus on one area. For example, don’t attempt to give up smoking, improve diet, and take up exercise all at once. Choose one area to change and stick with it.
2. We have all experienced the feeling after a hard day at work that the last thing we want to do is to workout or eat well. Deal with this by making your most difficult changes early in the day: start with a healthy breakfast, go to the gym, prepare your meals for the rest of the day—on a daily basis, recommit to the day ahead.
3. Write down three reasons you are likely to fail (perhaps reference reasons for failure in the past) and then write down nine reasons why you will be successful this time. This helps to reinforce the reasons behind making this change as well as to acknowledge the potential setbacks you may face in advance. This 3:9 negative-to-positive ratio has been proven to be significant in many psychological studies when it comes to making change happen.
4. Be positive when creating a goal. Focus on the positive, and make the future become the now. For instance, instead of declaring “I want to give up smoking”, it’s better to say, “I deserve to be and now enjoy being smoke-free”. Instead of saying “I want to exercise 3 times a week for 60 minutes”, say “I deserve to integrate activity into my daily life now and I feel good while doing so.” Visualise yourself in these positive states and make it happen.
5. Be accountable with the use of SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for making goals—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed. Not restricted to the start of a year, but a useful exercise at any time and for any project. Here, we will be using it for lifestyle change.
6. Specific: be precise when it comes to your goal. Think about what you want and what it will take to achieve it. For example instead of stating, “I want to lose body fat”, specify a healthy percentage with a target that you want to lose instead, and the measures you will take to get there.
7. Measurable: can you measure and track success? It is useful to monitor progress on a regular basis to make sure you are keeping on track.
8. Achievable: set an objective you can realistically attain. Use whatever resources you need to ascertain what this practical level should be for you.
9. Relevant: is this a suitable goal for you and you alone? Is it realistic? Is it something you are doing to follow the crowd or because you want this for yourself?
10. Timed: set a time frame for this goal. Establish regular intervals to record and check the progress you are making.
Here’s a SMART goal example:
“I will lose 7lbs of body fat, decrease my waist size by 2 inches and improve my body fat percentage from 18% to 13% by 31st March 2014. I will do this by integrating activity into my daily life now and I will feel good while doing so. I enjoy abstaining from alcohol and preparing my meals to follow a Paleo style nutrition plan.”
Practice these ten tips, and perhaps the new year will bring a new you after all.