There is nothing easier, so the saying goes, than making a new year’s resolution – apart, perhaps, from breaking one.
We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Pledged lofty promises of self-improvement on December 31, only to allow such noble intentions to become faded and forgotten by February. And, for some of us, that’s if we’ve done well.
Research carried out last year by the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, suggests almost half of us will make a resolution – yet only eight per cent will actually see it through to completion. A whopping 25 per cent of people will have given up by the time the first week of January ends. Perhaps that is more understandable here in the UAE than other places. So many of us have so much going on – busy professional lives, hectic social diaries, family commitments, and keeping in touch with loved ones back home – that trying to improve ourselves simply because of the calendar is possibly one ask too much.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Experts reckon that no matter what our resolutions are – getting fit, learning a language, saving money, it doesn’t matter – we should be able to join that elite eight per cent and achieve our aims. If, that is, we have the right approach.
So, today, to wish our readers a happy new year, Friday speaks to life coaches, personal development experts and psychologists to bring you their top tips on sticking to your resolutions throughout 2017.
Quitting smoking? Losing weight? Reading more? These are all noble aims well worth undertaking. But are they really what you want to achieve? Or – if you’re absolutely honest – are you simply running with the crowd and making a generic resolution because you can’t think of anything better? If the answer is the latter, success will almost certainly elude you, says Carmen Benton.
‘New year resolutions are dominated by one or two standard ideas like cutting down cigarettes,’ explains the founder of Mindful Ed, a personal development consultancy based in Al Sufouh, Dubai. ‘That’s fine if that’s something you genuinely want to achieve. But a lot of feedback I get is people only choose these resolutions because they feel it’s somehow the expected thing. It comes from external pressure, rather than an authentic internal desire.’
So dare to be different. Refuse generic resolutions and instead come up with something that genuinely matters to you. Learn a skill you’ve always dreamed of, perhaps. Or change a minor detail that’s unique to your behaviour.
In short: be true to yourself. Then, change not only becomes more likely but more desirable, too.
New year, new you, right? Wrong.
You can’t change your entire self just because the clocks strike – so don’t try. Setting huge targets that require huge behavioural alterations is nothing more than setting yourself up to fail.
‘Traditionally, people get excited and set targets that are poorly thought out, both in terms of the resources available and personal time frames,’ says Tom O’Neil, author of critically acclaimed self-help book The 1% Principle. ‘That means when they inevitably start to miss milestones, the progress towards their goals falls apart. Eventually they say to themselves, “This is too hard”, and they quit.’
The way to avoid such a vicious circle is to be more realistic in the first place. Set mini goals with achievable aims, says Tom. Then, as you complete those, slowly expand them.
This is particularly good advice, reckons Dubai-based nutritionist Christopher Clark, when improving one’s diet.
‘The easiest way to get derailed from healthy eating objectives is by creating plans that are unrealistic,’ says the author of the award-winning book Nutritional Grail. ‘So don’t tell yourself you’re going to cook a healthy meal every day if your schedule won’t allow. Within the first week, you’ll realise you’ve overextended and give up.
‘Instead, think about ways you can cook healthy meals every three days, and eat the leftovers on non-cooking days. That’s far more achievable to start with.’
What’s the definition of ridiculous? Quite possibly, it’s attempting to implement significant lifestyle changes slap bang in the middle of a celebration season.
Holidays don’t end on December 31. Many of us will still have relatives staying or may be away ourselves. There are probably leftovers left to be eaten and the odd party still to attend. Work will still be in that strange quiet time and the kids not yet back at school.
So, why try and become the new self-improved you on January 1 when the world is still feeling festive?
‘This is precisely the time when it is difficult to be motivated,’ says Helen Williams, a freelance personal development trainer based in Barsha Heights, Dubai. ‘Far better to let things settle down, get back into your regular routine, build up some motivation – and then start your resolution. Personally, I recommend around January 9.’
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, as the old adage runs. And this is never more true than with new year resolutions.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can simply say you’re going to change something, and it will happen. Treat it with more respect. Make a plan. Write it down or save it to an app. Keep it updated. Read it every day. ‘Getting our aims – and our methods of achieving those aims – down into a coherent action plan clarifies the best way to succeed in our own mind, gives us a visual motivation, and keeps us accountable to ourselves,’ says Carmen.
Take a pledge to save money as an example. Spending half an hour drawing up a chart of incomings and outgoings, jotting down weekly limits, and bullet pointing ways to reduce spending are all proven ways of helping to stretch the dirhams, and so help us achieve the ultimate goal.
‘Have your plan somewhere you see it every day – I use an app on my phone for example,’ advises Carmen. ‘That way I’m constantly reminded about what I’m trying to achieve – and also why.’
‘Visualising is an effective tool for fulfilling a goal because it fixes it firmly in the subconscious,’ writes Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Which is to say, if you imagine success every single morning, the result is that it motivates you to go out and achieve it. An example? If your resolution is to keep your office desk tidy, take a photo of it when it is all spick and span and then keep that picture where you can see it every day. It will remind you of how much better you feel when you have a clean work space and inspire you to keep it as such.
Telling the world about your resolutions might seem like setting yourself up for potential embarrassment. After all, no one wants to be the person who has boasted they are going to lose 10kg by spring and then be back on the cakes in February. But sharing your aspirations with close friends and family is actually a proven way to progress.
‘It takes personal courage and vulnerability to share something that you might actually fail at,’ notes celebrated behavioural psychologist Dr Paul Marciano in his 2010 book Carrots And Sticks Don’t Work. ‘But to dramatically increase your odds of success you need support from those around you.’
Ghada Zakaria, executive leadership coach with Authenticity Coaching and Consultancy in Al Barsha, Dubai, agrees.
‘People who explicitly state their goals are more likely to keep them,’ she explains. ‘It’s a form of social accountability. If you’ve told people, when those little moments of struggle come up, you not only have someone you can call on to help, you also have one extra reason to keep going – because you don’t want to be seen to be missing your own targets.’
Self-improvement is a long, hard and often thankless road – so consider rewarding yourself along the way. After all, it makes the journey far more enjoyable.
You’ve dropped 5kg? Go you. Treat yourself to a pamper session at a spa. Knowing that you get to do that again will make dropping the next five even easier.
Or perhaps you’ve had a week of getting your full seven hours sleep a night? Excellent stuff. Why not go out for dinner to toast the landmark? Maybe that will inspire another week’s worth of solid shut-eye.
‘If you build small rewards into your strategy, it boosts your motivation in two ways,’ explains Carmen. ‘Firstly, it breaks the overall target down into more manageable milestones, which, once achieved, make the long-term goal seem far more do-able. And secondly, each time you have your reward, it refreshes you and readies you to really push on again.’
You’re a high-flying career woman, a super-mum and a glamorous social butterfly. But do remember: you are also only human.
Slip-ups occur from time to time. Targets get missed. If your resolution was to hit the tennis courts twice a week, occasionally you may have to miss a night or two.
‘But, in these instances, you must be as forgiving of yourself as you would be anyone else,’ says Helen. ‘Treat any failure as a temporary setback rather than a reason to give up altogether.’
Indeed, use any slip-ups to learn. Why did it happen? Could you make things easier for yourself? If we take the tennis example, perhaps two nights every week is simply too much and you’d be better off doing one evening a week and increasing home-based exercise? Or can you drop another activity to make your schedule more manageable?
Above all else, it seems, remember that old adage: giving up is for quitters.