Just before the new year I posted on Instagram about New Year’s Resolutions, why I don’t like them and how I approach change from a healthier perspective that’s less likely to end in failure.
Scroll through your Instagram feed and every 4th post is an ad designed to make you feel like you’re just not good enough. From healthy food delivery boxes to fitness gear and online workouts, we’re bombarded with messaging that tells us we should be doing things differently and better.
Marketers are tapping into the ‘New Year, New You’ phenomenon and with many of us keen to put the indulgence of the festive period behind us and focus more on our health and wellbeing, is a ‘new you’ such a bad thing to want?
When we tell ourselves that the new year will herald a new us, it implies that we are inherently not good enough or somehow lacking. Although the start of a new year can feel like a blank slate which can be motivating, it can also do the opposite and it can feel super daunting.
When we stop to look at ourselves objectively and negatively judge our eating habits, exercise routines and so on, we often find ourselves coming up short, which can frankly, make us feel like shit. There’s nothing less motivating than feeling shitty about yourself, especially if you’re prone to anxiety or depression.
If you try to do too much all at the same time, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
When we think about where we’d ideally like to be, or where we think we should be, it can feel so very overwhelming that we end up frozen with inertia.
January for many of us isn’t the easiest month of the year to get through and when we heap additional pressure on ourselves it can make it even harder.
Setting ourselves up for failure
A typical scenario might be throwing out the rest of the cheese and snack foods you didn’t get through over Christmas. Pledging to give up booze, at least for a few weeks, to stop smoking, get more sleep, join a gym, start a new fitness routine, go for regular mountain hikes and countless other sweeping changes.
With so many different changes, staying on track becomes next to impossible. That doesn’t mean you can’t make lots of changes of course, if that’s what you really want, but if you try to do too much all at the same time, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Every January my gym is packed full of well-meaning new members. The first week and partway into the second week the gym is very noticeably busier, with longer waits for equipment, fewer spare lockers and so on. Every year, without fail, by the final week in January I’m astonished by how fast it drops back to the usual levels.
Of course, this is just anecdotal, but year after year I see the same pattern and research shows that 80% of new gym members who join in January will have quit by month 5.
Failing at stuff doesn’t make us feel great about ourselves, so instead of making sweeping New Year’s resolutions that we’re likely to fail at, setting smaller, much more achievable goals could be a far better tactic.
Adjusting our expectations
Research shows that it takes an average of 2 whole months to form new habits, so we must be prepared to be disciplined in those first few weeks. Whilst striving to improve is great, trying to do too much and all at the same time can sabotage your resolutions.
As well as being consistent, we also need to believe that change is possible to give us the best chance of achieving what we want, so the language we use can play a pivotal role. Remove the word ‘try’ and replace with ‘will’, so the statement “I’ll try to complete couch to 5k” becomes “I will complete couch to 5k”. It’s a simple but effective way to empower yourself.
Setting realistic goals and intentions
Focusing on the bigger picture can be daunting so you could look at breaking things down, for example, instead of going from never having run before to saying you’re going to enter your first 5k race in a couple of months, you could instead set a goal of establishing running as part of your life first and having a goal to run on at least 3 days a week.
If you generally like a drink, instead of going all out and doing Dry January, you could instead set the goal of cutting down your units more gradually, week by week.
Focus on the benefits of the changes you’re making. You might be financially better off having given up or at least cut down on smoking or vaping, you might find you feel fitter and more confident after running for a few weeks or you might realise that you don’t need alcohol to have a good night out or to unwind after work.
Making incremental changes is a great thing to do and it’s these little changes that are often much easier to master, filling you with the confidence you need to keep going and achieve whatever it is you ultimately want.