The first thing is to realise that just because you ate a bar of chocolate on the way home, or didn’t go to the gym instead of watching the TV, that’s no reason to think that the moment has passed for keeping resolutions. If you took that absolutist approach to other areas of your life you’d never have learned to swim, ride a bike, held down a job, or have any friends to talk to. If you’re trying to have a sober January but had a glass of wine last night then allow yourself the lapse, tell yourself it was only once, and start afresh.
For the majority of people it takes twenty one days of repeating an activity for it to become a new habit. That’s why persistence is important, and also why making it public can be really useful. Sharing what you want to do, and using the support and interest of other people, can be a powerful motivator for success in keeping resolutions. Even engaging with people who aren’t supportive can be useful – after all how many of us would like to hand the resident cynic the satisfaction of being able to tell us that they knew we wouldn’t manage to do it?
Making your resolutions public, even at this stage, also has two other benefits. The first of these is that you’re forced to put them into some sort of shape, and the second is that other people will question you about them.
Giving your resolutions some structure makes them achievable because it forces you to be realistic, and having some way of measuring your progress makes you be practical. For instance “I want to be fitter” whilst laudable isn’t very specific, is very open-ended, and very hard to assess. People will often suggest “I’ll go to the gym three times a week” is better and yes it’s easy to measure but it’s also easy to include going for half an hour’s gentle swim, or using the steam room for an hour.
Giving your resolutions structure also has to include what the benefit is to you, and that can be anything – in these examples being a different size or shape or weight, or being fit enough to enjoy a particular activity. It’s easier to persist if you keep your benefit in mind – in hypnotherapy I use the feeling that comes with having achieved your goal as a reward for making the right choice about food or behaviour. Thinking about benefits is another reason why talking to other people can be so useful, because your friends will know whether the benefit, or the resolution, are really in line with your values and whether they are really yours or what you think other people expect you to do.
So instead of “I’ll be fitter” or “I’ll go to the gym three times a week” something as simple as “I’ll walk for half an hour every day in my lunch break so that I can enjoy playing with the children more” is going to be much more successful – and you can easily tell if you’re walking further, or doing the same route more quickly, and how much longer you can play in the garden or the park.
So whether you’ve started and given up, are faltering, or didn’t try this year remember
- There’s nothing magical about January 1st – you can start any day of the year, but the best one to choose is always today.
- Make what you want to do something that you want, you can achieve and you can measure
- Share your goals and progress
- If you’ve lapsed don’t give up altogether – say it was a one off, and start the process of keeping resolutions again.
I found a reason not to go swimming last week – but this week I went, knowing that I’d feel better for it, and that I wouldn’t have to spend another week worrying that I’d bump into someone who asked where I was. I’d be interested to hear your views and experiences about persistence – what’s worked for you?