How not to break your New Year resolutions
2nd January 2018
A new year, a fresh start – now ’tis the season for setting our abstinence and self-improvement goals. But will we stick to our New Year resolutions? It can be tough, especially as we are often trying to form some sort of new habit (like starting to meditate every morning or eating a carrot instead of a Snickers). Dishearteningly, research suggests it can take up to 245 days for a new pattern of behaviour to become routine and not feel an effort. That’s an awful lot of days of motivation (and a lot of carrots).
We also probably don’t help ourselves by trying to make big changes in the coldest month of the year, when we feel broke and sluggish and are a long way from our next summer holiday. As Cathy Rentzenbrink wrote: “Maybe one of the reasons January is miserable is because no-one is eating enough”.
Despite all that though, the start of the year is a marker and a moment to think forward over a defined period in which to make some sort of significant change. And being a self-improvement junkie myself, I always take this opportunity to try and do something good for myself and in 2017 I finally found a way of sticking to my resolutions for the whole 12 months.
Previously, I had not had much success, an example being my annual resolution to learn Italian which I had been trying to do for about three decades – after a love affair in and with the country in my early twenties. Most years the furthest I got with it is definitely wanting to do it for at least a couple of days. Some years I got as far as scouring my bookshelves for Italian books, placing them on my desk and one particularly successful year I opened them more than once. Unsurprisingly, I am still at the same point in my knowledge of the language that I was 30 years ago – just more downhearted and annoyed with myself.
These are the three simple principles that made the difference:
1. Know yourself
Knowing yourself might mean knowing that you aren’t very good at languages which is probably why you haven’t got very far with learning Italian. I scraped a C in French O’level despite going to a good grammar school, having a French tutor and cheating in the exam (in the usual 70’s manner of carefully writing all essential verbs and vocab on the inside of Wrigley’s gum wrappers, neatly packing them all up again and taking them into the exam. Maybe these sort of antics is why they now only allow clear, label-free water bottles into GCSE exams).
2. Do more of what you enjoy and is good for you
Avoid the trap of fast forwarding a year from now and imaging yourself “a stone lighter” or “having run my first marathon” etc. Instead start by looking backwards at the year or years before and identify what you enjoyed which is also good for you. Most of us can find something?
So I may not be good at languages, but on the plus side I like to Eat Vegetables and vegetables are good for you so eating more of them was one of my resolutions in 2017. Already liking and eating vegetables I had confidence that I could increase my intake so it felt easy and I wasn’t burdened with any doubt that I might not achieve it.
3. Make it easier and get inspiration
The only potential glitch was that cutting up veg is a chore so I used Paul Dolan’s advice in his book Happiness by Design of making it easier for myself by taking a few practical steps. First, I remembered I had a Nutribullet, then I found, retrieved it out from under a bunch of pans and finally started to use it to make delicious veg smoothies.
Another thing I did in the first week of January was clear out my fridge, resulting in over 20 out of date jars being chucked out and, after a deep clean, it felt like a new, inviting space for an abundance of fresh, healthy food. Finally, it is nice to treat yourself to something new to set yourself off on your journey, so I bought the fabulous Veg Every Day, by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for inspiration.
Another resolution was listening to more music because it puts me in a good mood but I often forget to do it. Making this easier involved a two minute job of moving a few of my favourite CDs into the kitchen and this resolution matched well with the veg one as chopping to music is nice.
And you will also enjoy some unintended benefits……
As well as feeling virtuous, the main outcome of eating more vegetables in 2017 was doing more of what I enjoy – and with the new recipes, increasing my enjoyment of it. However, I also unwittingly made some changes that I had wanted for some time but had not felt motivated to do so. I ate less meat, I lost a bit of weight and I reduced my sugar intake – all in a much more enjoyable way than going on a zero sugar or weight loss programme.
Following the same principles of last year, I’ve set myself two new resolutions for 2018. One is to do more walking (because I love it and could do more) and the other is to watch more films with my teenage son (because it’s one of the few things we both like doing and one of the few times we don’t find each other annoying). To set myself off on these two, I’ve bought some new walking boots in the sales and we joined netflix.
I am not focusing on the unintended consequences but I think there’ll be less mindless, energy-sapping web surfing that I do too much of (difficult to do when walking and not model parenting when watching a film with your child) and more relaxed time with my son – both things that are important to me. I’m guessing the more walking and more sitting on the sofa watching films might cancel each other out in terms of fitness.
So it isn’t really hard to stick to your resolutions. Just get to know yourself a bit better, resolve to do more of the things you love, make it easy for yourself and reap the benefits of unintended consequences. For more inspiration, read this article about people who kept to their resolutions, particularly about the woman whose resolution was to be happier.
And if you are really ready and want to form a new habit, look no further than this very helpful article by Moya Sarner, which tells you everything you need to know.