The New Year period is a time of self-reflection for many people. Following what can be a hectic pre-holiday rush at work and a busy (and occasionally anxious) festive season, a period of reflection usually follows. It is at around this time that many of us think about the year that was, as well as what is to come.
2018 may have been a good year for you. Or maybe it wasn’t. Or perhaps it was a mixed bag? Whatever the case, you’re not alone if you decided a week ago that right about now is a good time to change something in your life.
At the start of each new year, millions of people decide that they need a change. So why do so many resolutions promptly fail?
Succeeding at new year’s resolutions
You’ve decided… aaany moment now… that you’re going to make those long-overdue changes. Maybe you want to get into shape and get fit? Quit smoking or cut down on alcohol? Change career or study commitments? Be more social, do those long-overdue DIY projects or spend more time with friends and family?
Except… now you’re a week into 2019. You might be struggling to start. Or maybe those old habits are proving hard to break?
Make no mistake, change is hard. Here are some tips on how to make those changes stick.
Set specific goals
So you want to be healthier this year? That’s a great goal, but it’s hardly specific. Quite simply, change is the attainment of a goal — and achieving those goals will be difficult if what you want to change is not clearly defined.
Instead of saying to yourself “I am going to eat healthier”, think about how you’ll do that and what it involves. It’s a lot easier to stick to a healthy eating goal if you can define it. For example, setting out to eat vegetables four times a week and buying fruit instead of snacks at the supermarket is easier to do than “I’m going to eat less junk food”.
And make your goals realistic
Gyms make a lot of money off people who rarely show up for a work-out. In fact, for many gyms, peak season for new member sign-ups is at the start of the year, when all those people who resolved to make a change take the first step.
As time wears on, many of those once-enthusiastic members will cancel — but not before autodebit has drained their bank accounts every fortnight. Quite often, a lock-in contract can extend the debt for many months.
Gyms know that this is how people behave. In fact, for many it’s often part of the business model.
While there are many reasons for this, very often it has to do with expectations. You want to go to the gym four times a week, but right now you don’t go at all. It is — unfortunately — a trait of human psychology that change is more likely to occur if our expectations are realistic.
A more reliable method is to start by going once or twice a week, and then build it up over time. Similarly, don’t set out to push yourself to the limit from the very beginning. It will eventually get easier if you stick to it, but the initial feelings of stress and physical hardships from those workouts might be so much that you find it hard to deal with them.
So make your goals ones that you can stick to.
Take one thing at a time
You want to do more exercise, save money, read more books, watch less TV, quit smoking, drink less, get out and socialise more, brush up your resume for a career change, clean up the back yard, fix up the roof, paint the spare room, take a greater interest in your kids, be a better person…
Every one of us has things that we want to improve in our lives. However, as with making individual goals realistic, so too should you be realistic about the actual number of goals you want to achieve. Again, having too many goals on your plate can be just as overwhelming, discouraging and unrealistic as setting goals that are hard to reach.
It’s ok to ask for help when making the change(s)
Breaking an old habit is hard enough. Doing it on your own without external help is even harder. So be prepared to ask friends and family for support.
Do you find it hard to resist raiding the chocolate supply in the pantry? Ask that family member to not buy any in the first instance. Do certain social settings trigger your urge to light up a cigarette? Consider making arrangements beforehand to avoid those situations altogether (for example, ask for the cafe booking to be away from the outdoors smoking area ).
If it’s a long-running habit you want to break, talk about the challenge or struggle of trying to change. Ask your family or a close friend to be understanding and encouraging, while not being judgemental.
Even better, if it’s something you both want to do (such as eating better or losing weight), see if they want to make that change with you.
Reward yourself for the right reasons
You can reinforce your new habit by rewarding yourself each time you reach a milestone or successfully stick to your new habit.
A reward can be small and inexpensive, such as a coffee from the local café, or a small online purchase. However, the best reward is something you don’t usually do. Importantly, don’t make your reward the very thing you’re trying to change (e.g. chocolate if you’re trying to lose weight, or “just one” smoke if you’re trying to quit). The temptation can prove overwhelming.
The longer you stick with your new habit, the more likely it will become natural to you. Small rewards — think of it as positive reinforcement — are a great way to help you stay on track.
Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Want to know where else you can get help? Find out how to access additional community support.
The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.