Losing 20 pounds, starting a new yoga class, getting more me-times, spending more time with loved ones, January 1st is for many the right time of the year to make these new resolutions. Unfortunately, it is believed that most will either fail to stick to them, or even start them altogether before the end of the month. However, a few are successful in achieving their goals. Why and how?
Is January 1st the best time to start?
For many of us, there is something magical about January 1st. We all make promises to ourselves, fully convinced that this year surely is the right one. However, changing habits is tough, the pressure we put on ourselves may also deplete our energy and willpower. So why each January 1st would erase these difficulties like a magic wand?
Great news, the best time to start is when you feel you are ready! There is nothing magical about the day you choose – January 1st is as good as any other day of the year -, you just need to feel it internally. I made many promises to myself that did not last very long because they were based on external motivations and not internal ones. So what are the differences?
Internally and Externally Motivated Goals
First, think about your real motivations. Do you want to lose weight to please other people, meet their expectations, or do you need to feel more vibrant deep down, or reduce health risks? Do you want to start a new yoga class because it sounds fun and your friends are telling you that you are not cool enough or is it truly something you want to feel and experience?
As you may have guessed, if the goal is externally motivated, based on how other people may see you or expect of you, there is a good chance that the pressure on yourself will deplete your energy tremendously. The hard work will not pay off as fast as you think. If the goal is internally motivated, a true desire/need you feel deep down, then the pressure will be more manageable and your effort will naturally continue for a longer period of time.
You definitely need a firm plan that will not only state what your goals are
but also how you’ll deal with the discomfort.
Why is it so vital? As I said, habits are hard to change and require hard work over a significant period of time. Ingrained habits, even bad ones, feel natural. If you are used to having a cigarette right after dinner every day of the week, then however bad it is for you, it still feels natural, you are used to doing it. If your goal is to change this habit, you should remind yourself that your brain has been trained to ‘enjoy’ this special moment right after dinner.
Tolerating discomfort will make you mentally stronger, for other challenges as well.
Therefore, it requires a lot of effort on your part not to give in to this habit. That makes you feel uncomfortable because it feels so unnatural. Once the discomfort is higher than the expected results, you start to give yourself reasonable justifications to give in, which leads to discouraging setbacks. The higher the risk if your motivations are based on external factors, ones that do not come from you. To avoid these potential setbacks, you need a plan.
How to create an effective action plan?
People usually underestimate how uncomfortable their resolutions are going to be. They do not prepare themselves on how they are going to deal with this discomfort. As the saying goes, ‘ a goal without a plan is just a wish’. You definitely need a firm plan that will not only state what your goals are but also how you’ll deal with the discomfort, the predictable temptations as well as the setbacks.
1. First, it is best to start small. What does that mean? Focus on the process, the little victories along the way, not on the main goals straight away which could be extremely discouraging. Try to focus on what you have accomplished so far, this will help you accomplish way more and tell yourself, ‘Yes, I’ve done it, I can do it again!’. It also helps you think that it is just not a drop in the bucket, but actually a step in the right direction.
2. As you have already heard, the goal must be SMART, realistic and doable. If efforts do not pay off based on unrealistic goals, your willpower will deplete fast. But what if life situations come up that unfortunately get in the way? You may need to re-adjust the goals. For this, you need to be flexible and make new acceptable tweaks to your plan.
What if life situations come up that unfortunately get in the way?
Be flexible. You may need to re-adjust the goals.
3. Bear in mind that willpower is a muscle that you can train. It can be strengthened. the more you practice self-control, the less mental effort it takes over time. Also, try to minimise stress and fatigue in your life that may deplete your energy. Try to get enough sleep and a routine that suits your daily commitments/obligations.
4. Build imperfection which means you must be flexible. The ‘all or nothing’ attitude is highly counterproductive. For instance, if your goal is to exercise at 6 am every morning, that is bound to fail as there is no room for flexibility. Instead, set a goal like three times a week, which is still manageable and may avoid any potential setback if you are unable to wake up on time one day. Besides, you will feel in control, not enduring a new form of slavery. There is a good chance that you will stick to your goals that way.
5. As I have mentioned it earlier, expect discomfort, it should be included in the plan. Due to the unnatural feeling, you will surely feel discomfort. Learn to manage it. Try to reframe it. For instance, instead of thinking you cannot have chocolate while that’s the only thing your brain seems to be focussed on, think about how courageous you are not to give in, that you are making progress. Compassionate self-talk is crucial at this stage. Besides, tolerating discomfort will make you mentally stronger, for other challenges as well. And finally, if you do mess up, be forgiving, do not beat yourself up. Try to review your goals and plan for a little while.
Last but not least, habits come from repetition and some habits need more repetitions than others. Regardless of the number of times, practice helps you build the habit so that it becomes more natural gradually. I have failed many times, and I have got back on the horse many times too. I am still learning to be kinder to myself at times. Bear in mind that you may face setbacks but as long as you try, you’ll get there!