Updated: Aug 16, 2021
With the beginning of the new year upon us, a quick scan through our social media feeds inundates us with advice and wisdom related to the setting of resolutions and goals. It all seems too easy, with practical steps to apply in order to increase our chances of following through....so why is it that so many of us fail in doing so?
Behaviour change is simple, but it's not easy.
After only 4 weeks 36% of us have abandoned our resolutions and by the end of the year less than 8% of us actually achieve them. It turns out that the way we have traditionally gone about our goal setting and efforts for breaking or introducing new habits is off-the-mark.
Science tells us, there is a better way.
The fact is, resolutions are about behavioural change and involve either adopting new, positive habits or letting go of old, undesirable ones. Our traditional approach has been to address the behaviour, yet what the evidence indicates is that we should be placing our attention on behaviour cues and the subsequent 'rewards' we receive. Let's apply this concept ~ say you'd like to run a marathon...place your running shoes at your bedroom door (cue) so that when you get up in the morning they prompt you to go for a run. Beyond the dopamine 'high' you receive as a reward from the run, reward yourself with a little treat afterwards ~ this may seem counterintuitive but it offers an incentive, further motivating and embedding the behaviour. Over time through repetition the cues will become automatic through the development of neural pathways in the brain ~ essentially you've created a new path to the behaviour or action and that becomes the path of least resistance.
This works in opposition for habits you would like to break.
Aside from focusing on the cue and the reward, there are a number actions that you can employ that will increase the likelihood of sticking to your resolutions & goals and ultimately achieving them.
Be specific & realistic: The more specific and realistic you are, the more likely you are to maintain your resolution. For example, rather than have "lose weight" as a goal, identify how much weight and place a time frame around it. "Lose 15kg by end of Q1." Alternatively if you're unrealistic and place the expectation of say losing 50kg in Q1 you're placing unnecessary stress on yourself along with extremely unrealistic expectations. Consider your resolution a process of constant vigilance rather than a one-off event.
Identify Steps Required: It's important to get specific about what you need to do in order to achieve the goal by creating tasks and milestones. IE. Create a weekly meal plan, limit sugar to so many grams/day, aerobic exercise Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the gym, join a running group for Saturday mornings etc. Then ask yourself what support you will need from your network ~ your partner, your family, your friends, your colleagues. By simply telling other people you have a goal to lose 15kg, you have created an expectation and another degree of accountability.
Attach meaning & feelings: The setting of goals that are truly meaningful requires breaking them down to your why and associating them with how you want to feel. Your why reveals your values behind your goals and operating through your values keeps you focused and intrinsically motivated. When you think about how you want to feel, Danielle Laporte claims it offers an emotional conduit and becomes more heart centred rather than just head (ego) centred which often creates positive emotion. When you engage positive emotions (such as gratitude, curiosity, pride, joy, love, inspiration) you broaden your mind and open up to new possibilities and ideas which help build your personal resources (Fredrickson, 2015).
Employ strategies: The fact is you're going to face challenges and potentially experience failure throughout the process, that's life! At the onset acknowledge that you will encounter these challenges and you can either choose to avoid situations where you will be tempted or you can have a strategy to meet that challenge. For example, if you're giving up alcohol for 30 days, you can either avoid being in situations where there is alcohol or you can plan ahead of time what you will drink when you are in those situations. University professor John Norcross and colleagues found that when individuals preserved their decision making (IE pre-determined a strategy when facing challenges on resolutions), willpower and resolve were stronger.
Check in with yourself: So many of us set our big, hairy, audacious goals at the beginning of the year and neglect to look back at them until the end of the year (if at all). Through the steps and milestones you've created, you can regularly check-in with yourself to make sure you're on track and actioning all of the steps you had originally committed to. On that note, with the challenges comes the occasional slip-up and applying self-compassion is mandatory. If you've missed a week at the gym don't despair! Jump right back up onto that horse and carry-on, don't beat yourself up over it and abandon your goal. After all we're human and bound to crack every now and then.
The good news is that by merely having the intention to change a behaviour or initiate a new one, you're chances of accomplishment are ten-fold. Once you've identified the core feelings you desire and have subsequently created your goal, truly believe that you can achieve it ~ self-efficacy (belief in your ability to do so) further increases your chances of smashing your goals! Lastly, it's essential to think about your daily choices and determine which ones will get you closer to your why.
Kirsten works with individuals and organisations to develop their potential and create positive change. Contact her today for mentoring or speaking opportunities in 2018.
To hear her interview on new years resolutions with 2esr click HERE.
Fredrickson, B. (2004). The broaden & build theory of positive emotions. Phil. Trans. Royal Society of London (359), 1367-1377. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693418/pdf/15347528.pdf
Laporte, D. (2014). The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul. Sounds True. http://www.daniellelaporte.com/thedesiremap/
Norcross, J.C., Mrykalo, M.S., & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld lang syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.