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Why New Year's resolutions are a bad idea

BY Louise Slyth

30th Dec 2022 Life

Why New Year's resolutions are a bad idea

For many of us, New Year's resolutions are part of our yearly routine, but how well do they actually work? 

I’ve always thought that New Year’s resolutions are a bad idea. Why do we set ourselves big goals in January? Yes, it’s the start of the year, but it’s also dark and dismal. You might still be feeling replete from too many mince pies or engaging in mortal combat for the last of the Christmas chocolates. Hardly the best time to introduce transformational change… 

January takes its name from Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings. New Year’s resolutions go back to Roman times, when January 1 provided citizens with an opportunity to reflect back and look to the future. So perhaps in 2023, we should use January as an opportunity to regroup and reflect on what’s important to us, before embarking on any big plans.

Do we keep New Year's resolutions?

Scientific studies suggest that two-thirds of us give up on our New Year resolutions within the first month and just over half of us make the same resolutions year after year. So, we are clearly doing something wrong. One of my favourite quotes is, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” How, then, do we stop doing what we have always done and introduce meaningful change that sticks?   

First, what do you really want? When we focus on something we actually want, we tend to do better. Second, set realistic goals. No-one jumps out of bed and runs a marathon or writes a novel. We need to break big goals into smaller tasks that we can achieve and build our confidence.

Say you are completing a 10,000-word dissertation in 9 months. Those 10,000 words might seem daunting, but broken down into 270 words a week, it feels like a much more manageable task.

Training for a marathon

Break your goals down into more manageable steps

If you want to run 10k, start on day one by downloading a running app and buying new trainers. Tick! Day 2, pop those new trainers on and just leave the house. Yes, that’s all. Every step is a step towards your goal. 

Translating intention into action isn’t easy for most of us. A study published by The British Psychological Society indicates that it’s easier to form long lasting habits if we piggyback our desired new activity onto something we already do. It’s called habit stacking and it’s a kinder way to introduce change into your life. 

"It’s easier to form long lasting habits if we piggyback our desired new activity onto something we already do"

If for example, you want to learn Spanish, you might try using an App like Duolingo while you are waiting for your morning coffee to brew. If you want to start practicing yoga, leave your mat out and introduce your daily practice when you get up, rather than immediately scrolling through your messages. Sustainable change doesn’t have to be about making huge leaps forward. It’s about keeping daily promises to yourself and making progress. When you see progress, you will be more likely to stick with your new habit. 

If something is important to you, do it first thing in the morning so you can’t wriggle out of it, or diarise it at a time when you can commit to it. And if it’s not important to you, why are you doing it? 

Be a cheerleader, not a taskmaster

Niamh Ennis, transformation coach and author of Get Unstuck, asks us to consider how we approach making change at this time of year. “Starting with the language—people react so much better to the idea of setting intentions rather than resolutions. Intentions are guiding values for how you want to be and reflect far more accurately just how you want to live your life, how you want to be seen and how you want to feel at the end of the year. Plus, when we attach feelings to our intentions, our chances of achieving them rises significantly!”

Woman celebrating

Celebrate the process!

Even with the bravest of plans and the best of intentions, we all lose momentum sometimes. Perhaps it’s because we are busy chasing goals rather than chasing joy. So many of us live by the mantra “I’ll be happy when…” What if you decided that just working towards that goal made you happy? What if you decided to celebrate every incremental step towards your dream outcome?

"What if you decided that just working towards that goal made you happy?"

One way to tackle this is not to over-focus on the end goal. Rather than saying, “I must get a new job in 2023,” flip it to “I’m going to apply for at least ten jobs that I’m passionate about this year.”  If you hope to run a marathon, commit to the training programme, not the medal. Because you are giving yourself a mental pat on the back just for trying, you can’t fail. And if you know you can’t fail, then why not give it a try?  

Whatever goals you set for yourself, why not endeavour to be your own cheerleader rather than taskmaster? You might achieve more and have a happier 2023 along the way.

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