You've started, but will you finish?
|Posted on Jan 08 2012
|Brainbox Blog >>
Resolutions, goals, new habits, whatever you’re calling the changes you want to make to your life for the coming year, I hope everything’s going well for you. That said, it’s January, it’s cold(ish), wet, and the days are short, which doesn’t make it the best time to be denying yourself the fun stuff and instigating brutal new self-improvement plans (there’s a good reason why the French call a diet ‘le regime’!). Indeed, when I deliver my coaching workshops, one of the first things I get participants talking about is why new year resolutions are so hard to maintain: it’s simply a terrible time of year to be making changes. What we want to do is hibernate under the duvet, not set the alarm an hour early to get to the gym, and stuff our faces with calorie-rich comfort food, not pick at fish and green vegetables, great for you as they are.
It was reported in 2009 by the Health Behaviour Research Centre at UCL that it takes an average of 66 days for new patterns of behaviour to become completely ingrained, as it takes this long for new neural pathways to become established in the brain and for all the new stuff to feel as normal as brushing your teeth and combing your hair. Given that I’m writing this on January 7th, we all still have a good while ahead of us to get those habits fully formed, so I thought it was time for some encouragement to stick to our chosen paths, wherever you’re trying to go.
Find the right terminology ‘Resolutions’ just doesn’t work for me. I’ve always associated them with denial, giving things up and general pain – the only new year’s resolution I ever stuck to was ‘drink more champagne’, which is rather telling. I came across the phrase ‘set your intentions’ at some point last year and I like this a lot better as it feels positive and focused. On Boxing Day, I sat down and typed out all my intentions for this year, including going for my black sash in Lau Gar kung fu and attracting more business customers to my coaching service. I also now break this down into setting my intentions for each day (what will I have achieved by the end of it and, importantly, how do I want to feel?), and then for individual activities (I’m currently setting my intention for tomorrow morning’s sure-to-be-agony combat conditioning class!). Find the phrase that works for you - goal, target, aim, nudge, habit, whatever - and use it to motivate yourself.
Motivation in two directions Speaking of motivation, we need to be moving in the right direction. There are two forms of motivation: away from, and towards. Away from is the motivational drive that makes us take action because we’re afraid of failing, getting things wrong, getting fat, being unhealthy etc. This is not a particularly healthy way in which to persuade yourself to make changes, and we know that despite all the available health information about the dangers of smoking, for example, that threat of illness still isn’t enough to encourage a lot of people to quit the habit. Try to focus on motivation towards the positive aspects of change: fitting into the clothes you’ve always wanted to wear, that morning run getting easier and easier, choosing the fruit over the chocolate because you genuinely prefer it. Focus on the results you want, visualise them fully and in detail, stick up pictures and reminders that keep you on track. Don’t change because you’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t – you have to positively want something if you want to avoid coming unstuck and sabotaging your own progress (another post coming up on that topic soon!).
Don’t make huge changes too soon or expect instant results Some of my clients are quick to tell me that this all this goal setting malarkey just doesn’t work for them. After talking things through, this is often because they set goals way out of their reach and set themselves up to fail, or they expect change to happen too quickly and, when it doesn’t, this is used as an excuse to get back on the sofa with a hand firmly planted in a giant bag of Kettle Chips and let that new gym subscription slide. The things you want to change or achieve should take you out of that comfort zone that is your couch and put you in a place called the ‘stretch zone’; this is where you have to work hard to achieve what you want, learning from the experience, but where the goal is still realistic and achievable. The ‘panic zone’ is the place we want to avoid, and this is where we go when we try far too hard and expect results too soon, such as going from being a complete couch potato to signing up for an Ironman event in a few weeks’ time! Think carefully about what you can realistically achieve through some focus and hard work, while holding down a job, studying etc., and identify the measurable results you can expect to see and tick off your list.
Don’t beat yourself up If you are sticking doggedly to your plans and haven’t had even a small backslide, then I commend you – and can I have some of what you’re taking, please? I have mainly stuck to my healthier eating plan since the new year began, although the piece of lemon polenta cake from the deli next door to my office got the better of me yesterday, and it really wasn’t a great idea today to go and see a movie about a Belgian chocolate factory… However, I have mainly adhered to my eating rules, I’ve been exercising rigorously all week and have a tough session beckoning tomorrow, when I’ll also be eating healthily again and making up a big batch of homemade lentil and vegetable soup. It’s mostly gone the way I intended (I’d say a 90% success rate) and that’s not bad for a crappy week in January. If you backslide, don’t beat yourself up too badly and, similarly, don’t use the fact that you ate some of the chocolate as an excuse to finish the bar. Pick yourself up, talk to yourself positively and start with renewed energy tomorrow. If you are really struggling, then it may be best for some of you to practise your chosen habits in moderation until the spring arrives, the sun comes out, and we all feel more able to get up earlier, eat salad and generally have more energy.
But… Only YOU can make these changes so, if you really want to change, you’ll have to go for it and push hard. No-one made me eat that cake; I ate it in the full knowledge that I wanted it, and could have decided not to have it. No-one forced it down my throat! Don’t blame others for your lack of progress and remember to be prepared for the ways in which you trip yourself up: if you know you can’t eat one biscuit without finishing the packet then don’t bring them into the house in the first place. If you know you will try to talk yourself out of going to the gym, lay your kit out in advance, get those trainers on and get out of the door before you start all the mental chatter and convince yourself that you’re too tired to train. You won’t regret going to gym, but you will regret sitting on the sofa for the evening, just as you’ll be happy you ate that fish with green vegetables and had the self-discipline not to succumb to the lure of the takeaway menu.
Remember: “Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing.” M.Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled)
If you’re still struggling, try these web sites for inspiration:
– devise a contract and pay a fine when you break it. Sometimes this is the only incentive! http://www.stickk.com/
Or hire a personal coach! Good luck, everyone!
Last changed: Jan 08 2012 at 2:29 PM