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Why New Year Resolutions don't work, how to change all that and smash your goals!

We've all been there, Christmas is over and you're starting to turn your attention to the New Year. Which naturally starts you thinking about what your New Years resolution is going to be, so you start to think about what you want to achieve. It could be exactly the same as you wanted at the beginning of this year but this time it's going to be different, you just have a good feeling about it, that this will be the year that everything changes!

You're all hyped up and excited to get going, you can't wait to reach your goal. Yes it may be a big goal, but go big or go home right?

New Years Day comes around and you're feeling a bit jaded and so you decide you always meant to start it on the 2nd, so give yourself a days grace. Then it's 2nd and you're going for it, all or nothing! You last a few days or maybe a couple of weeks, but then your excitement levels start to drop away a bit. You start to question why you wanted to reach this goal in the first place. It's making you miserable trying to reach it and so it can't be the right goal for you and before you know it, you've talked yourself out of the New Years resolution and back to where you were before.

You feel happier for a day or two and then the negative self talk starts and shame rears its head. "You're useless! Why do you even try to make a change, you can't stick to anything".

Sound slightly familiar? Research shows that up to 80% of New Year's resolution will have failed by February (based on my experience, I actually thought it may have been higher!). So why is it that so many people can't create the change they are looking for? I've come up with a list below....

  • You haven't taken the time to think about what you're trying to achieve: what I mean by that is that you decide what you want and that's it but you haven't put the foundations in place first to set you up for success. Raising your awareness about why you want to achieve your goal and what happens if you do is a crucial first step (just a head's up, there is always a negative to achieving your goal and by identifying it and dealing with it, you are far more likely to succeed). Try thinking about the following questions (there are so many more but these are a good starting point)...

  1. What is so important to me about this goal?

  2. What will happen when I reach it?

  3. What won't happen when I reach it?

  4. What could be a negative outcome if I reach this goal?

  5. What have I tried before and what can I learn from that to move me forward?

  • You're trying to achieve your goal with giant steps: Your brain stem (the very primal part of your brain) is purely concerned with survival. In it's eyes change = danger of death, so when you try to make huge change fast by using deprivation or going cold turkey (as tends to be the case with New Year resolutions), your mind is going to work against you to 'keep you safe'. What you have been doing up until now has kept you safe and so it'll throw all sorts of thoughts into your mind to make you realise this was all a bad idea and go back to what you were doing before to keep you safe. Basically your brain stem freaks out. Instead try taking small steps. Ask yourself what's the smallest step you take each day to move you towards your goal. The steady change won't cause your brain stem to freak out and is far more sustainable.

  • You don't have an accountability structure in place: So you know what you're trying to achieve but you don't have anyone regularly checking in on you to help support you and keep you on track. You may well be thinking to yourself 'I do, my husband/wife/partner/friend is going to do it for me'. If that's the case think about how that will pan out. I'll tell you a story of my own about this. One New Years Day I told my husband that I was going on a diet and that he had to keep me accountable by challenging me if I was going to eat anything that wasn't on the plan or if I was going to eat after my evening meal. He agreed (poor sod!). So one day I decided I deserved a treat and was about to eat some chocolate when he challenged me. My response was to get upset and tell him that he clearly thought I was fat. He, of course, tried to explain that wasn't the case at all and he was simply doing what I'd asked him to do. A night or two later, I decided I was going to have some supper and walked into the lounge with said supper and he said nothing. I then asked why he wasn't doing what he'd agreed to do to help me! Poor guy, you can totally understand why he will no longer be my accountability partner. So before you ask someone close to you to keep you accountable, have a think how it will play out. Perhaps consider joining a relevant group or get a coach. The great thing about a coach is that not only will they help keep you accountable, they'll also uncover what is behind any unhelpful behaviour, teach you to reframe negative stories and so much more.

  • You think falling is terminal and don't take time to reflect: Making changes or trying to reach a goal is a journey and there will be lots you can learn on the journey. It's going to have highs and lows and you will absolutely fall over more than once. So many people see falling (I don't like the word 'failure' as there is no such thing if you learn), as terminal. You've fallen over and therefore you weren't successful and so give up. But falling is a crucial part of succeeding. When you fall, you learn, you iterate, you get back up and you keep going with fab new knowledge that helps keep you moving forward. Also, taking time to reflect each day about what went well and what could have gone better and what there is to learn from you day is truely a super power. Journaling is a fab way of tracking your journey and all you learn along the way and is also a record for you to be able to look back on, to remember your lessons and also to appreciate how far you've come. So instead of seeing falling as terminal, ask yourself "what can I learn from this?" and take some time ideally every day or at least once a week to reflect and take the learnings.

  • You don't celebrate any wins: As humans we have an inbuilt negativity bias which means we notice the negative way easier than the positive. This happens when trying to reach a goal or create change by us only noticing when things go wrong and not giving ourselves any credit for doing well. BJ Fogg, author of 'Tiny Habits' and founder and director of the Behaviour Design Lab, has proven with his research that attaching a positive emotion to creating change is actually the key element and more important than consistency. So combine reflection with celebrating wins. When you reflect and you've had a good day, celebrate that, give yourself some kudos and allow yourself to feel good. You are then far more likely to keep going with creating the change or reaching your goal.

These are just a few reasons why New Years resolutions aren't successful and hopefully I've given you a few pointers as to how to change that. I'm not a great fan of NY resolutions and the reason being is every minute of every day is an opportunity to make a change, to start again. You don't have to wait until Monday and you certainly don't have to wait until 1st January.

Every single person on this planet has exactly what they need within them to create anything they choose to and this is a belief I hold strongly. It's something that is shown to me time and time again with my clients. Clients will often thank me for changing their life but I tell them that it absolutely wasn't me that did it, it's always them. They had all the resources they needed within themselves to do it, I just helped them to find the access keys to those resources. You are exactly the same, so what do you want? What will you choose to create? What could your life look like? Create a life you love!

If you're keen to create a successful life you love, come and join my January Challenge in my FREE Facebook group for women: The Health and Mind Collective, where everyday in January I will be giving you an idea, a tool, a tip or technique, or something to think about. If you get involved and do, use or think about what is presented, I promise you that you will create sustainable change. Here's the link to join:

If you're keen for some accountability and support to get you on track towards your goals, or maybe you're not sure yet what your goals are and want some support to define them. If this sounds like you, please get in touch. I offer a FREE 30 minute discovery call which may just be enough to get you going.

Create possibilities, create opportunities but don't create regret!


Published 29 December 2020

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