When the clock clicks over to midnight and the last firework fizzes, we’re usually left brimming with optimism for what we are going to achieve in the coming year. Yet by around January 26 (or ‘Fail Friday’ as it has become rather depressingly named) well over around 60 per cent have given up, rising to around 80 per cent by February. So how do you maintain that initial optimism and keep that motivation bubbling away for long enough to see real lasting change?

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Russell Hemmings is a life coach, cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist and author – and one of Friday’s resident experts. Here are his tips for success in 2018.

1. Don't make the past a prison

No matter how much we might be the product of our past and no matter how much we might want to change it, as the writer L.P. Hartley wrote, ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.’ We can’t go back, but we can feed forward the lessons we’ve learned. That’s why it’s so important for us to be brave and deal with any issues that might be clouding our present and holding us back. Patterns of behaviour are usually rooted in those issues and so having the courage to explore them and become more self-aware will help you when it comes to cementing lasting change into your life. Whether it’s with a professional or simply a personal journey you make, the things you learn will help shape your future and liberate you from your past.

2. Give yourself a pat on the back

The analogy of seeing life as a mountain to climb might be a well-worn cliché, but often these hackneyed phrases do have nuggets of wisdom embedded in them. Sometimes looking up that mountain and seeing how far you have to climb is exhausting and demotivating in itself. Staying optimistic is not just about looking forward, it’s also about looking back down that mountain and seeing just how far you’ve come. Pause for a moment and enjoy the view!

Look carefully at what you’ve achieved last year and give yourself a pat on the back. Self-praise is often something we neglect, but allowing yourself time to acknowledge what you do well is extremely nourishing for the soul. Much of the ‘New Year resolution’ phase is about what you want to achieve, and that’s great, but before you even think about that, put pen to paper and make a list of the positive things you did last year and put a great big tick by each one.

3. It’s not just about the what, it’s also about the why

Once you’ve spent a little bit of time basking in that positive glow, then it’s back down to business to think about the next 365 days. Setting goals is, of course, a great idea. The key to doing this successfully is to be super specific. Hone in on what it is exactly that you want to achieve. Vagueness leads to running out of steam, so rather than simply saying you want to lose weight, pin it down, think about exactly how much and how long is realistic and give yourself a time frame.

But the goals or the ‘whats’ aren’t always enough in themselves; they need to go hand in hand with the ‘whys’. Dig deep and work out why you want to make those changes in your life. Ask yourself the tough questions like ‘do I really want this?’. Because ‘really’ wanting something essentially has to be accompanied by laser sharp focus and a steely determination to accomplish it. 

Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up to fail and possibly playing into that old narrative that you can’t do it and you’ve just proved it. So, don’t create self-fulfilling prophecies for yourself. Before you embark on change, think about it.

4. Chunk it up

There’s a saying: You can’t eat an elephant in one go. Now, of course, this is a wonderful metaphor for how to be successful when it comes to achieving your goal. Thinking about the whole goal can be off-putting. It can feel like an impossible task for the very start and this drains your motivation. So, chunk it up, or break it down – whichever you prefer!

Success comes by making a series of small steps forward. And never forget that change isn’t linear. You might take steps back in the process, too, and this is where you need to develop that resilience to keep going with the process. Change also takes time. New habits take on average two months to embed and become automatic behaviour, so it’s no wonder so many people give up on their resolutions before January is even over. But I like to see change as an even longer process. So, don’t set yourself an unrealistic timescale, because it puts too much pressure on.

Keep everything moderate rather than extreme and you’re more likely to feel early success, which will fuel your motivation gauge and keep you topped up with that ‘can do’ mentality.

5. Save it for later

One of the ways you can do this is to send a message to yourself. Bottle that initial optimism by writing yourself a letter about the whats and the whys early when you first decide to make those changes. You’ll be surprised how powerful it is to hear from yourself. And if writing’s not your thing, make a video (or a series of them) explaining why it’s important you keep going with the process, building your own resource that you can tap into later. Friends and family could even join in. Then, when you hit a that inevitable bad day that threatens to knock you off course, you can top up your motivation by watching those ‘positive me’ videos.

6. Shake it up a bit

There’s a little rebellion in all of us, especially when we feel we’re denying ourselves. Temptation is all around and one of the most destabilising influences is boredom. So, it’s crucial to keep things fresh and interesting if you’re going to stay on track. Build in doing things differently every occasionally. And don’t just limit this to your goal. It’s great to ring the changes in other areas of your life too.

Learn something new, take up a new hobby, take a day to do something exciting, challenge yourself in new ways. Whatever it is, break out of the routine or the rut, because it can spark new friendships, unleash creativity and build self-esteem.

Change goes hand in hand with confidence. Growing your confidence by getting out there and doing things differently will help you create lasting change and lasting change will grow your confidence. It’s chicken and egg, I know, but believe me, stepping out of your comfort zone just a little will open up a world of possibility.

7. Big it up

Thinking about how you convey yourself to the world is also important. We all have our own narratives that we tell ourselves (and others) – you know the self-deprecating stuff about how you’re hopeless at this, rubbish at that, you’ve got no willpower, and so on and so on. All this negative self-talk serves only to reinforce those narratives as personal truths. But the truth is, you can change the story. All you have to do is start to speak more positively about yourself and the things you’re good at.

A little bit of self-appreciation and self-care goes a long way. It’s about setting a great deal of store about how much you’re worth as a person and if you value yourself in this way, you’re more likely to think you’re worth all the hard work involved in change. And, of course, you most certainly are!

8. Track, reflect, review

As I’ve mentioned, change is a process. It’s simultaneously unquantifiable (in its power) and scientific in the way it is achieved. Alongside chunking everything up, tracking your progress is a sure-fire way of reminding yourself how far you’ve come and how much further you have to go. So whether it’s tracking through technology or just good old-fashioned pen and paper, record it in some way. This will help you to reflect on what’s going well and what could be going better. In this way you’ll be able to review those steps towards your goal and adjust accordingly. Change is a cycle – keep pedalling!

9. Have high expectations of yourself

This one might sound obvious, but so many people don’t! I’ve lost count of the times I’ve talked to clients and it becomes apparent that they simply don’t believe in their ability to do things differently. Of course, it’s my job to help them make that the first thing they change. A positive attitude, high hopes and expecting the best from yourself make change possible. Whatever your goal, believing you can achieve it is half the battle in doing so. Ask any sporting superstar and they’ll tell you the mind is as important as the body when it comes to winning. Keep telling yourself you can do it, keep reminding yourself why you’re doing it and expect to achieve it.

10. Do what you can, do it the best that you can and try not to feel guilty about what you can’t

The other thing that can undermine us is that everything else gets in the way. Those heady early days of January when resolutions are new and shiny and exciting can soon be tarnished by the day to day. Juggling, piling through the to-do lists, running out of time – it can all very quickly seem overwhelming. So maybe this year, if you’ve got your sights set on ringing the changes, you could look at where you can manage that time better.

Gain a real overview of what you need to prioritise and what is just not that important in the grand scheme of things. It’s far more effective to do fewer things well than to take on too much and do everything in a mediocre fashion. Learn to say no to things that will cause you stress with very little reward and devote more time to yourself, the people and the things that are truly important to you and will help you grow as a person.

Russell Hemmings is a life coach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting. Call 055 286 7275 or visit russellhemmings.co.uk.