Yes, I am fully aware that it’s the middle of February and here I am still hounding on about New Years (I promise there is logic in my reasoning). By now, it’s likely that we are probably seeing less of that wonderful hashtag #newyearnewme sprawled across our Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat stories, and our social media friends are probably less concerned about telling the cyberworld how eager they are to “make a change” (whatever that change might be). Now, is this because we have all carefully formulated a 100% fool-proof plan and are effectively working towards our New Year resolutions OR is this an indication that we probably had the very best intentions at the end of ’17, but unfortunately for us humans, our behaviour is quite ingrained, so it can often be difficult to make a long-lasting change.

Difficult yes, but not impossible.

Many of us do this! The hype of the festive season begins and soon enough we are finding ourselves motivating one another to become “better people” – it all sounds so good in theory – “I’m going to lose 10kg”, “This will be my year to quit smoking”, “I will spend less time at work and more time with my family”, “#2018willbemyyear”. Am I right?

Recently, I’ve been reading up on New Year resolutions and research states that although many of us make resolutions, less than 10% of people keep them for more than a couple of months. Therefore, by February most of us have ditched our resolutions and returned to our old habits – now you see why I’m writing this in February? So, if you’re interested in working toward your New Year resolution, keep reading on.

1. STOP Putting it off
  • Recently, I’ve been noticing a meme that has gone viral on social media – “I’ve decided that my 2018 will start on February 1st, January is just a free trial month”. I must admit, this made me giggle, because we are all guilty of this – the classic: “I’ll just start next week”. We are so good at making sneaky little excuses to put things off (sometimes so sneaky that we may not even realise we are doing it!) Well, I’m #justsayin that you will never reach a goal if you keep putting it off.
  • Notice when you are making excuses – if you are skilled in the art of “excuse making” identify the very first sign that you are doing it – what does your behaviour, thoughts and emotions say? Maybe you start feeling angsty or agitated, maybe you start prioritising small things that really don’t take much priority? Whatever it is, identify it and start monitoring when you are doing it. Then, decide on a start date and stick to it.
2. Make a PLAN
  • Once you have identified a start date, make a plan! Start by setting some short-term and long-term goals. What would you like to see as the finished product? If you met this “end goal”, how would you know? What would be different?
  • Make your end goal as specific as possible. This way, you can start working backwards and identify the short-term goals that you will need to meet before getting to the finish line.
  • Make these specific too! For instance, “I will go to the gym more” – what does more mean? Replace this with “I will go to the gym three afternoons a week”.
  • Identify any potential barriers that might get in your way and factor them into your plan. If you want to cut down on drinking, what is likely going to get in the way of this? Is there a way that you can plan around it? Is there anything/ anyone who could help?
3. Be REALISTIC
  • Research tells us that many new year resolutions are not met because a) people make too many, and b) people aim too high too quickly and therefore make goals that are not achievable and realistic.
  • Identify what you want to work toward (e.g. focus on my health and fitness). Now, this is a broad area and it’s unlikely that your behaviour will be maintained if you jump in and decide that after not setting foot in a gym in two years and eating take-out five times a week, you will go to gym seven times a week, stick to your regimented meal plan of chicken and broccoli and lose 20kgs in 4 weeks. This is a great example of unrealistic goal setting – it will likely act as a barrier because it will seem too hard to achieve.
4. Start SMALL
  • This brings me to my next point. It’s okay to aim high, but you are setting yourself up for failure if you don’t honour the small, achievable goals that helped make that end goal possible! As I preach to my clients, I am all for small steps! In this case, less is more and more is less. If you set the bar too high it’s very likely that it will all seem too hard, your curious mind won’t like it, and If your mind doesn’t like it it’s likely to lead you on a chaotic spiral of overanalysing all the reasons why it’s too hard and why you should probably just put it off – “I’ll just start next week”!
  • Plan those baby steps and start reaching them. That way, you will begin to feel motivated and encouraged by completing the small initial goals. Think of this step as a staircase – you can’t go from the bottom of the stairs to the top without taking those first few steps.
5. REWARD yourself for SMALL Steps
  • We know from behavioural research that rewarding desired behaviour rather than punishing undesirable behaviour increases the likelihood that the desired behaviour will continue to occur. In short, we are more likely to do something if we know that we will receive an immediate reward following the behaviour.
  • You’re going to be more likely to continue completing your short-term goals if you have a reward system in place. The reward can be anything, just make sure it’s meaningful for you.
6. Remember WHY you Initially wanted this CHANGE
  • When it all seems too hard bring yourself back to the “why”. You owe it to yourself to take time to reflect on why making this change was important in the first place. I know that making even the smallest change in our daily lives can be testing, but I also know that if these changes are driven by what we value in life it can make the process feel more meaningful, fulfilling and sometimes a little easier.
  • For instance, you want to get fit and healthy? “Why?” – “Because I want to be able to be more active with my kids and set an example of a healthy lifestyle”. To me, that speaks more volume than the goal of “get fit and healthy”. Why did you make that NY resolution to do less overtime at work? “Because it creates more time for me to reconnect with my partner and be there to watch my children grow”. When the goal seems too far away or just seems too hard bring yourself back to why it was important in the first place (and remember – small steps please!)
7. ASK for Help
  • As I said, behaviour change can be difficult because we become so accustom to doing things a certain way. Behaviour can be quite engrained so sometimes we might need help from a trusted friend, family member, coach or even a psychologist to motivate us and support us on our journey to reach our desired goals. Often, we find that if we set goals with someone we know and trust, it can be easier to work towards them.

If you or someone you know requires a little extra support or would like some help to kick-start 2018, please feel free to make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists at Attuned Psychology today.

Ashleigh Stodden

Psychologist