Sunday, January 23, 2022

Capture The Optimism Of January 1st: How To Make New Year’s Resolutions… And Stick To Them

Guest writer Lauren Keenan has some experience on how to change your life, one week at a time, as she literally wrote the book on it. Here, she shares her advice on how to create new year’s resolutions – and actually stick to them.

I love the early days of January. You can practically smell the optimism in the air. It’s when you have excited conversations about our new resolutions, and are inundated with a plethora of online listicles about the ten changes you can make the ensure the coming year is your BEST EVER!

We make solemn declarations about drinking more water, doing new things, or reading more books. Or, beating the world record for walking on one’s hands. In case you were wondering, the current record for hand walking is over five kilometres. For a brief moment in time, even that seems possible.

Unless we had an amazing spiritual epiphany as Aud Lang Syne assaulted our ears, we aren’t likely to achieve different results from last year’s resolutions (ie: none) unless we change our method.

But there are things we conveniently forget when riding the optimistic train to the resolution station. Important things. Such as: I can’t even do a handstand, so breaking the world-record for a stroll on my hands is probably a tad ambitious. We forget we are still ourselves, just a version of ourselves that is a day older than last year. Unless we had an amazing spiritual epiphany as Aud Lang Syne assaulted our ears, we aren’t likely to achieve different results from last year’s resolutions (ie: none) unless we change our method.

How, then, to keep your resolutions past the middle of January?

1. Choose no more than three things to change, and ideally only one
Fact is, willpower is finite. You might have ten zillion things you want to change about your life, but the longer the list, the higher the chance of failure. Three is the maximum you can focus on, especially if it’s something that challenges you. One is ideal, if you can identify a lone forerunner. If you scatter yourself too widely, you’ll do well for the first few days of January. You’re an All New Me, hear me roar! Then: real life happens. The annoying thing about real life is that old triggers lurk around every corner, ready to pounce. The fewer triggers you need to deal with, the better your chances of success.

If you scatter yourself too widely, you’ll do well for the first few days of January. You’re an All New Me, hear me roar! Then: real life happens.

2. Tell someone
Nothing is more motivating than fear of looking like a fool. The more people you tell, the better. That way, your Aunt’s Cousin’s hairdresser will be like “weren’t you meant to be walking on your hands?” and you’ll be reminded of your need to train. Make sure you tell the right people, though. People who will support you and be kind.

Actually, based on the above, your Aunt’s Cousin’s hairdresser sounds like a bit of a knobber. Don’t tell them. Tell your friends instead.

3. Respect the 5 stages of change
In the 1980s, psychologist James Prochaska developed the five stages a person must go through before they can change. The stages are:

1. Pre-contemplation

2. Contemplation

3. Preparation

4. Action

5. Maintenance

In many ways, stages one to three are easy. There are very clear things that you can do: join a gym; buy shiny new active wear; get bandages for your hands so walking on them hurts less. You’re unlikely to succeed at something if you jump in at stage four. It needs to be a change you’ve already thought about, not something your mate suggested at 11.59 on 31 December.

It’s also important to remember that moving through stages one to three can turn into a really clever form of procrastination rather than actually making the change itself. You don’t have to have a plan. That’s what 1 January is for. But it probably can’t be a completely new idea either. If it is, you won’t have done the mental groundwork to make it succeed.

But that’s not the hard part. The challenge comes during stage five, the maintenance. Starting is one thing. Keeping going is another, because of what they call the extinction burst.

4. Beware the extinction burst
This is where I usually fail. I hate the extinction burst so much I’d much prefer to refer to it as the Extinction Burst of Failed Dreams and Doom. Melodramatic? Maybe. True? Absolutely.

With all new resolutions, there comes a point where the novelty has worn off and you feel inconvenienced by the change. You suddenly find multiple excuses to revert back to the way you were. Psychologists call this an ‘extinction burst’ – when the old, bad habit fights its way back to the surface, and tries and ninja its way back into your life.

It’s the habit’s way of saying “Oi! I liked being here! You think you’re going to get rid of me, eh? Well I have a thing or two to say about that … ” This is why it’s important not to have too many resolutions on the go at once. Dealing with one, two or even three extinction bursts is one thing. Dealing with ten? You’d end up spending most of late January constantly resisting the urge to crouch in the foetal position and suck your thumb.

This extinction burst comes at different times, depending on the habit you’re trying to change. But – it always comes. Always. The good news is you can push through. And once you do, you’ll be on the home straight.

It’s important to be realistic. You will not have any more free time or money in 2022 than you did in 2021. Your obligations and mental load will likely remain the same. We are still living in a global pandemic.

5. Be realistic
Change can happen. It really can. You can turn things around. And, in many ways, the New Year is the best time to do it.

But, it’s important to be realistic. You will not have any more free time or money in 2022 than you did in 2021. Your obligations and mental load will likely remain the same. We are still living in a global pandemic. For these reasons, maybe the best things to try are the tweaks you can fit in to the margins of your day; small things that make a real difference to your physical and mental wellbeing.

Maybe breaking the world record for walking on one’s hands is a little much.

Maybe, for 2022, I’ll focus on drinking more water instead.

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