New Years Resolutions and all that
Did you make one? Did you set a goal to get fitter, lose weight and eat healthier on 2016? Many of us use the change in year to promise ourselves we'll be a better person in the next. Giving up smoking or getting back on the alcohol are also popular choices for resolutions. Dry January has gained much publicity in recent years and many TV and radio stations carry stories of people trying the challenge.
But why do so many fail to maintain the enthusiasm they felt on 31st December? I remember reading somewhere a while back that a ridiculously high percentage have already given up on their resolution by the end of the first week in January! And I guess the majority of the rest have given up by the end of the month. I wonder how many are able to make it to the end of the year and have successfully made a permanent change - hats off to those who do!
Shocking we all say. But what makes it so difficult? Speaking from my own experience, it's easy to make the resolution at the end of December when our bellies are full and the over-indulgence of the festive season comes to an end. But while it's easy to make the promise to ourselves, it's a lot harder to stick to it. And this is for a number of reasons in my opinion.
Firstly, January has to be the worst time of the year to make a change if you live in the northern hemisphere. The short, cold, dreary days followed by the colder dark and stormy nights do not make it easy to change behaviour. Who for instance wants to go out running when the weather is bad and leave a nice warm home. Although I must admit, I do love the challenge of running when it's very cold or stormy because I get a great sense of achievement if I can face the elements and get back in one piece. A hot bath is a great reward but it still takes huge chunk of willpower to force myself outside.
Secondly, we should recognise that a resolution does involve quite a big commitment and that it involves making a change to behaviour and not just one thing we've sworn to do differently. For example, a common goal to get fitter does not just mean buying a rowing machine and sitting on it. We're all busy these days so we have to make changes just to find half an hour a day to train. Where do we find that time? What other things do we have to stop to find the time to row, pedal or run?
We can't make a change to our behaviour in isolation. If we're not fit or overweight, then why? Are there other issues that need addressing so we can make the changes we desire. If we want to be fit and healthy so bad, then why aren't we already fit and healthy?
The answer is it comes down to habits. Habits are so easy to form, but so hard to break. The Chinese have a wonderful description of habits...
"Cobwebs at first, cables at last."
Sums it up perfectly. I've written extensively about the physiology of habit and changing them in my book, The Peak Performance Zone, so I won't repeat it here. But briefly, while we may not be proud with some of our habits or the results, the habit is a strong connection in our brains that is easily triggered by stimuli - or things, people and certain events in our lives. To change this strong response, often a subconscious reaction, takes more than just willpower. It requires us to first recognise what triggers the habit, and then to consciously choice to prevent the response.
For example, this Christmas I decide not to eat chocolate - a great failing of mine is to eat too many festive treats :0( But rather than ban all chocolate from the home and deny my family, I chose to not pick one up. Instead of thinking I won't eat a chocolate (NLP practitioners and hypo-therapists will tell you your subconscious will ignore the negative and translate to 'eat chocolate'). So when the box of goodies was handed round, I could acknowledge their presence but make the conscious decision not to touch them. Based on previous experience I know I could not just have one, then I'd eat too many and not feel so good. Knowing the outcome I could change how I reacted and delay that reaction for just one second so I could make an educated decision to leave them alone.
So before you make another resolution, note it doesn't have to be January, you can make one any time, Then decide what part of your behaviour you are going to change and how you are going to incorporate that into your lifestyle. Keep your goal in mind but determine what other things have to change to allow you to stick to your main target,
Also see how to set goals and stick to them.
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.