New Year. New you? Why we struggle to stick to our Resolutions
YouGov tells us that around a third of us make resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking and money management. However, sticking to the changes we promise ourselves is a far bigger challenge than deciding what we’d like to do.
There are a few theories for how to make your resolutions stick; but one of the most popular is to set realistic goals. Psychology professor Peter Herman identified the “false hope syndrome,” whereby people set significantly unrealistic goals. For example, a non-runner, in the spirit of New Year enthusiasm, might believe they can go from couch to marathon in 6 months, even when nothing in their past or present would suggest this is likely.
The truth is that changing habits is very tough. MRI testing has shown that habitual behaviour creates neural pathways and memories, which then become the default mode for choices and decisions. Trying to change that default thinking by “not trying to do it,” in effect just strengthens the habit (as the brain still follows the ‘unwanted’ neurological path first). To truly change we are required to form new neural pathways, which can only be developed over time, and with repetition, (you have to effectively keep over riding the old habit until it is ‘replaced’ with the new behavior).
One way to do this is to be mindful. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens, moment by moment, rather than living in the past (what I used to do) or future (where I should be).
It is also essential to be ready to change. For some, resolutions are more procrastination than a genuine effort to reinvent oneself. Many people use resolutions as a way of motivating themselves, often before they are ready to change, making ambitions a little doomed.
On the positive though, at our Clearing event back in the Summer, former Olympian and world-renowned sports scientist Professor Greg Whyte argued that there’s no such thing as ‘impossible’. Anyone is capable of achieving their aims with commitment, and the correct planning. He argued that most resolution makers wake up on 1st January with great ambition; but then try to move too rapidly towards their goal. Greg explained that just as cars cannot change from Gear 1 to Gear 5, challenges have to be broken down. He cites his own success as a trainer (which includes getting David Walliams across the channel and Eddie Izzard through 43 marathons in 50 days) as making small steps and celebrating more of the journey. In short, don’t look to the end goal, instead consider the challenge in short chapters.
The same wisdom is currently being spouted by a 4 year old in one of the first virals of the year. In a clearly fed narrative, a little girl explains that resolutions shouldn’t be about one big moment, but about seeking all the many, many little opportunities to change that we come across every day.
So, with that in mind, here’s to 2017 (or at least to the first week!)