Behavioural science expert Jeremy Campbell makes the case for introducing small everyday habits rather than big New Year's resolutions
Every year at New Year we face a clear choice—a new chapter or the same old story? Yet in our attempts to create a new beginning most of us follow the same course. A course which failed to work last year, the year before and the year before that.
You see, there’s a truth about New Year which we all need to finally accept. New Year’s resolutions are a false promise: a fool’s errand and a waste of time. They just don’t work. Nor could anyone who knows anything about behavioural science think that they could work.
"Embedding new habits through 'everyday actions' are a much more effective way to change your life"
First, most New Year's resolutions are too vague and easily forgotten. We don’t break them down into the small achievable everyday actions we need to take to make them happen. Therefore, we are easily daunted and distracted. We don’t measure or track them. We are too ambitious, especially if we make them when we are still celebrating! When it comes to delivering them, we become disheartened and give up. We don’t stay accountable. So, when we start to lose focus and become distracted there isn’t anyone there to hold our feet to the fire. We give in.
Behavioural science tells us that instead of New Year’s resolutions, the principles of embedding new habits through “everyday actions” are a much more effective way to change your life—one step at a time. These are the same principles which are used by Olympic gold medallists and the most disciplined leaders in business. If you follow them with commitment and focus you will change and you will achieve beyond what you can imagine. These are the six steps to follow.
Be crystal clear on your goal
One goal is best. Make the goal very specific. Don’t say “I’m going to lose weight.” Say “I’m going to lose 2lbs per week by exercising three times, stopping chocolate, reducing alcohol and being focused on a healthy dinner.”
Reminders on your fridge or mirror can help you stay motivated
Make sure your friends and family know your goal. Peer pressure helps you stick to the task. Make sure the goal is written in places where you will be consistently reminded of it—the fridge door, the bathroom mirror, your digital devices.
Break the big goal down into everyday actions
The most important thing is to create simple, small steps—act small and often. Big goals are daunting. If we focus on the small steps, we make them achievable and relevant.
"The most important thing is to create simple, small steps—act small and often"
We also begin to avoid the biggest enemy of progress: distraction. If we can identify these everyday actions we need to take to embed new habits, we start to create something powerful. It is the compound effect of consistency which adds up to a big change.
Track and measure your progress
As the famous old saying goes, if we don’t measure it, we can’t manage it. We need clear visibility of how we are getting on.
Tracking your progress can be helpful to show how you're getting on
Imagine playing tennis, or golf or football and not keeping the score. Yet that’s what most people do with their New Year’s resolutions. With new habits you need to keep the score.
Aim for progress not perfection
You just need to get momentum and gradually move the dial. Too often the reason we fail is that we expect too much too soon and become disheartened. If you miss a training session, eat a chocolate or go off the rails a bit just bounce back. Don’t stop.
Be accountable for delivering
To embed new habits, we need to take personal responsibility and accountability. The biggest reason that New Year’s resolutions fail is that we make ourselves accountable to no one for delivering them.
"Trying to achieve alone is a recipe for failure"
Team up with others who want to achieve the same thing. This helps encourage you and keeps you committed. It means there is someone to get you out running on a wet night and someone to coach us when we inevitably get tempted by distraction. Trying to achieve alone is a recipe for failure.
Celebrate your wins
Celebration makes everyone happy. It releases great warm chemicals in our brains which not only encourage us to want to do more but also are at the heart of motivation, satisfaction and engagement. The more you celebrate, the more likely you are to keep on winning. There is one other thing to keep in mind—be kind and recognise the greatness in you.
Celebrating your progress is super important!
One survey by Michelle Hutchison in 2014 suggested 35 per cent of those who failed their New Year's resolutions admitted they had unrealistic goals, 33 per cent of participants did not keep track of their progress, and 23 per cent forgot about them completely by the time they sobered up! Make a resolution not to make any New Year’s resolutions. Follow the six steps of everyday actions to change your life in 2023.
Jeremy Campbell is the CEO of performance improvement business Black Isle Group, an executive coach, and an expert on behavioural science
Read more: What is toxic positivity and why is harmful?
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