With the coming of the new year, it’s time to work on all those resolutions that we just made a few days ago. Some of them may have been made after a few drinks and are just unrealistic, others were made with a vision of a great future and are optimistic. Either way, they are hard to keep. It’s easy to see the end point of a difficult task, to imagine how we will feel if we succeed, and when we do this, it’s easy to forget how difficult the road will be. We often overestimate our ability to make it work, and will inevitably set ourselves up for failure. So now that we’ve made these big resolutions, how can we make the accommodations in our lives to keep them?
Making a resolution is easy, keeping it is difficult. Only 8% of people who make a new year’s resolution are able to keep it, and that is only for a single goal! If you have many, don’t expect to keep all of them even if you can achieve one. But why so little success? People start out so motivated, so eager to change their lives!
Part of the problem is that to achieve these resolutions, like any goal, requires a shift in priorities and some careful time management. For example, if you want to lose weight, you might make a resolution to lose 30 lbs in 2015. This is reasonable, but to do it, you may have to start going to the gym at least three times a week. When will you do this? If it’s in the morning will you get up earlier? What will you sacrifice in the evening so that you can get enough sleep? If you don’t go to sleep earlier you will feel deprived and not have the energy for your other priorities. To lose weight you also have to eat well. Maybe this means cooking at home, which also takes a lot of time. What do you give up to make room for this? If you aren’t willing to let go of another priority, you’ll burn out. It happens all the time, and it’s for this reason that gyms see a surge in visits in January, and then are back to regular numbers by February.
The other problem is that people are too focused on the end goal. It’s great to think about how wonderful life will be when you achieve the goal, but the hard work in getting there is often overlooked. In the weight loss example, the first week will probably be amazing. You’ll go to the gym, you’ll eat well, and you’ll tell people about your new outlook on life, and how great you feel. But after a week the luster wears off, it becomes routine, and you lose that starting energy. This is why people fail. They get to the grind, the challenge, and its too much. If you give yourself one tiny concession, it can snowball. “I’ll just skip the gym for some extra sleep today,” “I’ll have a slice of pizza and work it off tomorrow.” It overcomes you quickly. The true test of your resolve doesn’t come on day 1, or even day 3, it comes on day 30, day 100, day 257.
I’ll use blogging as a personal example, because this was honestly the first New Year’s Resolution I have ever kept. There were some days I woke up and just did not want to think about a post. Other days I was busy and didn’t find the time, or make the time. But I made up for it for every day I missed, I pushed myself to post even a simple image and a couple of sentences, because that’s how you succeed. If you had the same energy on day 100 as you did on day 1, everyone would keep their resolutions.
There is a way to simplify your goals though. Let’s say you want to go to the gym 5 days a week. The first week is a breeze and you feel great, you have amazing workouts and tons of energy. By week 2 it’s tougher, you have a day where you just don’t have the energy. Instead of expecting yourself to do a crazy hard workout, why don’t you instead just go to the gym and do light cardio? You’ll still be achieving your goal of working out every day, but on a down day, you expect less, and so you won’t get burnt out. When you feel you have the energy, sure have a harder workout. But don’t beat yourself up if you have a low energy day, or struggle with a blog post, or feel like you want to give up on your goal. Everyone feels that way at some point, and those who succeed find ways to push through it, without sacrificing the penultimate goal.
If you ever feel discouraged, I have good news too. People who make resolutions, explicitly stating their goals, are 10 times as likely to achieve them than those that don’t. So just by stating your goal in resolution form, plain and simple, you are far better off than people who have a goal and aren’t clear about it.
So don’t give up! I believe in you! But if you do, take a day, forgive yourself, and get back to it.