The New Year brings with it a sense of fresh opportunity & new beginnings. A chance to take stock of the lessons learned in 2018 & build on the progress already made. But as we all know, setting life changing goals at the start of the year is one thing — sticking to them and seeing them out is often the real challenge.
Now that the dust has settled after the New Year we’ve put together some of our favourite tips to break your resolutions down into achievable habits. Let’s get started…
1. Be realistic
Too much, too quick.
One of the most common reasons we fail to make our resolutions stick is that we attempt to change too much too quickly. Rather than taking it one step at a time we attempt to take four (often in different directions). While this might work in the short term, before we know it we fall flat on our face and find that we are back where we started. At this point, we feel demotivated and often fall back into our usual ways.
Countless studies suggest that the more changes we attempt at once, the more unlikely we are to stick to any of them. Instead we should identify one or two key goals that would bring the most value to our lives and make sure they are realistic and actually achievable in the first place.
Shrink your goals
To help us be more realistic, Nate Green talks about ‘shrinking’ goals to create small but incremental changes. To do this he asks his clients; on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely they feel they will achieve a particular goal. If his client answers anything less than 7, he gets them to shrink the goal into something more manageable. For example if you’re aiming to hit the gym 5 times a week but are starting from 0 — you’re being unrealistic. Start at 1 day a week and gradually build it up. 52 workouts a year is still a significant increase and provides a firm grounding for your new habit to form* and be built upon.
*A study published by researchers from University College London in the European Journal of Social Psychology suggests that on average it takes around 66 days before a new habit becomes automatic for the individual.
2. Focus on the habits not the end goal
Break it down
Another common mistake is not not breaking down our goals into specific actionable steps and daily habits, both of which are key to unlocking the power of incremental change. Unless you actually identify what steps it takes to achieve your goals, how do you actually expect to achieve it? You need approach it game plan — you can do this by breaking down what you need to do, step by step.
“A thousand mile journey begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu
One great example of this came in 2003 when David Brailsford was hired to put British Cycling on a new, more successful, trajectory ahead of the forthcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics. What set him apart from previous coaches was his relentless commitment to a strategy which he referred to as “the aggregation of marginal gains” — a philosophy of searching for any tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. Brailsford said, “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”
This strategy was so successful that it resulted in Team GB Cycling dominating the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning 60% of all possible cycling medals and the Tour de France for many years afterwards.
Put it into practise
Take one of your resolutions (e.g. eating healthier) and break it down in to the smaller steps or mini milestones (cook at home, eat less take out food, eat more greens). Next, think about what habits that you should adopt every day in order to support these aims (plan your meals, cook with your friends/family, learn new recipes) so that you can sustain your efforts in the long term.
3. Be in it for the long haul
Many people tend to think of New Years resolutions as a sprint race, when in reality it is much more like a marathon. Incremental but sustainable changes in habits are far more effective for achieving long term goals than explosive but short lived intentions. This incremental change needs grit and determination to form lasting habits that transform your life through the power of compounding.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year & underestimate what they can do in ten years.” — Bill Gates
In her TED Talk ‘Grit: the power of passion and perseverance’, psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth identifies grit as being critical in propelling personal growth, change and success. While the resolution serves as the initial motivation, it is grit that will carry you through the sometimes difficult reality of actually achieving those goals.
Determination is central to our next tip, which focuses on how to keep going when you encounter setbacks and ‘failure’.
4. Accept failure on the path to success
There’s no point denying it — at some point you will encounter set backs and days where life seemingly gets in the way. Juggling commitments of family and work life, alongside tiredness, illness and mental health are just some of the real world factors which will at times hamper your best intentions.
“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” — Bob Dylan
This is absolutely fine — you’re human. However, as they say, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
When we almost inevitably fall short of our lofty goals, we end up feeling frustrated and guilty for not following through. If we’re not mindful of this as it happens, then we will likely not persevere and push through these challenges. To combat this we need to commit to the cause and have a plan of action for when this happens.
You’ll probably already have a good sense of where your resolutions normally get stuck. Plan ahead for how to respond when these factors arise, especially those which you have identified as being more problematic for you in the past. When you perceive these factors starting to negatively affect your goals, take the appropriate steps to alleviate them.
5. Stay Organised
“An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing.” – Dale Carnegie
Many people have great ideas but struggle with executing them to turn them into a reality. Leading business trainer Stephen Covey advises beginning each piece of work by assessing your priorities — values, goals and high leverage activities so that you can base your planning around them.
“If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.” – Olin Miller
How many not started or unfinished tasks do you have filling up the back of your mind? How many un-actioned emails in your inbox? How many ideas you never wrote down? Of course it is unfeasible to do absolutely everything we wish to do, there are not enough hours in the day. However, simply by completing old tasks and externalising thoughts and ideas, the day will almost certainly seem to have more hours in it, your head will return to more of a headspace and your self esteem, inextricably linked to your productivity and success, will sky rocket.
Get out of your head — write things down, make reminder post-it notes, set a to-do list
Design your Environment — de-cluttering your physical space will help de-clutter your headspace and leaving items related to your goals in sensible places will make matters much more manageable.
De-clutter your workload — Set aside time to finish old projects so you can bring a fresh approach to your work.
Start now! — If you’re serious about wishing to change some aspect of your life, begin as soon as you can – don’t wait for the first day of the Gregorian calendar (or any other calendar).