As we approach the end of December, our minds inevitably turn towards our plans for the fresh year that will soon be upon us. And for many of us, that means making new resolutions for what we’d like to achieve over the next twelve months.
But if you’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past, you know how hard it is to stick to them. According to a YouGov survey, only a quarter of us are able to keep all the resolutions we make for a full year. It is no wonder that the same survey found that older people are less likely to make a New Year’s resolution – years of trying and failing to stick to our goals can put us off making any in the first place.
While no one can predict exactly what the next 12 months will hold (a lesson 2020 has taught us in abundance), many of us have had time to reflect this year on our lives and how we want them to look going forwards. So, you may well be getting ready for an overhaul in 2021.
If you are keen to make some changes, especially to your health and fitness, our tips for making resolutions that you can actually keep should come in handy.
1. Review the past year
Instead of jumping straight in to making plans for the future, it is a good idea to start your resolution-setting process with a review of the past year. It is fairly rare that we have the opportunity to take stock of where we are and what we’ve achieved, but the end of the year is a good time to try.
It is helpful to make this a semi-formal process by writing down your thoughts. If you keep a diary or journal, going back through your entries for the year can help to jog your memory. If not, scrolling back through the photos on your phone, your social media posts, or even your text or WhatsApp conversations can also remind you of what has happened during the past 12 months.
Try to keep the process free from judgment – this is not about making yourself feel guilty if you haven’t done the things you wanted to this year. Instead, it is about reviewing what went well and what you would like to improve on. Make note of the things that made you proud – can you build on these successes next year? Or, if there is something you are not happy with, what changes could you make to tackle these areas in the new year.
2. Focus on one main goal
Once you have had a chance to look over the past year and review areas that you’d like to improve, you should have a clearer idea of what changes you can make in your life. But it is important not to get carried away. Trying to overhaul your entire life in one go will likely end with you becoming overwhelmed, leading to failure.
Instead, use your review of the past year to help you to identify the most important area where you would like to make changes and focus on this when you set your resolutions. It takes time and effort to create new habits, so concentrating your energy on one area of your life means that you are more likely to be successful.
3. Understand your ‘why’
If like many people, you decide the area you want to concentrate on in the New Year is your health or fitness, you are more likely to be successful if you articulate to yourself why the goal is important to you.
Psychologists who study human motivation often use a framework called self-determination theory (SDT). According to this theory, our likelihood of succeeding in keeping our goals is determined, at least partly, by our reasons for wanting to achieve them.
It is easy to do the things we love because we are intrinsically motivated to do them. But when we want to introduce a new habit, such as a new exercise routine, we are more likely to be successful when we focus on how this activity will bring us outcomes that we value. It is called identified regulation and studies have found that it is important in motivating us to be physically active.
So, when you are setting new fitness resolutions, keeping your reasons for wanting to achieve them in mind will make them easier to keep.
4. Do your research
Once you know what you want to achieve and why, the next step is to determine how. The more you understand about the different options for reaching your goals, the better placed you will be to keep your resolutions.
If you want to make changes to your diet to improve your health, take some time to research the different eating plans available. The same applies if you want to up your fitness levels. Once you have a good understanding of the options available, you can choose which ones best fit your aims. Research will also help you to make resolutions that are realistic and achievable.
5. Make a plan
With your research in hand, you are well-placed to make a plan for how you will put your resolutions into practice. Be as specific as possible about the steps you need to take and how you will tackle them. Write it down so that you can refer back to it during the year.
If you are looking to change your diet, for example, you might start by making a grocery list, auditing your pantry, and creating meal plans. If you have fitness goals, you can look at your schedule to decide when you will work out, where, and what exercises you will do.
As you make your plan, take some time to think of possible barriers that might prevent you from keeping your resolutions and how you will overcome them. If you know, for example, that you always crave a sweet treat at a certain time of day, you can plan to eat a healthier snack a little earlier in the day that will make it easier to resist your cravings. Or, if you know you will be travelling away from home and won’t be able to go to your usual gym, you can make a plan for what to do instead to maintain your fitness while you are away.
6. Create routines
When we are aiming to make long-term changes, incorporating healthy habits into our everyday routines is the best way to make them stick for the long run. Studies have found that we need to use less self-control to meet our health goals when we put beneficial habits in place.
That is why part of your plan making should include building daily and weekly routines that prioritise the behaviours that will help you to keep your resolution.
7. Put your support system in place
When you make a resolution, sharing it with others and asking them to help you stick to it is a great way to make sure there will be people to support you and hold you accountable. You may even inspire some others to get on board and keep you company as you work to reach your goals.
Support can come from many different places and you might want to put a few options in place to keep yourself motivated. Friends or family can provide real-life encouragement, while online communities can help you find other people working towards similar goals.
You might also want to seek professional support, at least at first. When you are new to healthy eating or exercise, working with a nutritionist or a personal trainer can help you in making sure you go about putting your new habit into practice in the right way.
8. Monitor your progress
Keeping track of your progress can be a great way to keep your motivation up for the long run. When you are feeling uninspired and tempted to throw in the towel, having a concrete record of what you have already achieved will remind you of all the hard work you have already invested – making it less likely that you will give up.
Research from psychologist, Benjamin Harkin, and colleagues confirms this. Their meta-analysis of studies looking at how successful people are in reaching their health goals showed the importance of frequently monitoring your progress if you want to achieve your aims.
9. Pick yourself back up
No one is perfect and it is inevitable that you will hit speedbumps at points during the next year that will make it harder to meet your goals. Whether these hiccups are external circumstances or internal motivation, the key to keeping your resolution for the long term is to not let setbacks discourage you. Instead of beating yourself up for not doing as you intended, give yourself a moment of grace. Review what went wrong and consider what you can do to overcome the issue.
Staying flexible is key here. It may be that your original plan is no longer fit for purpose. Don’t be afraid to adapt it to new circumstances when needed. If you’ve put a good support system in place, those people can help you to overcome issues and make tweaks so that you can get back to your resolution with renewed energy.
10. Acknowledge your successes
Many of us find it easier to focus on our failures, making it easy to become discouraged. Instead, try to make it a habit to regularly acknowledge your successes. Whatever your ultimate goal, there are many small milestones you can mark over the year to keep yourself motivated. By focusing on your successes, you will find it easier to keep your resolutions for a full year.
If you are serious about making changes in the new year, taking the time to properly consider your goals and motivations will make you more likely to achieve them. Putting a concrete plan and a good support system in place gives you a roadmap to follow as you work to reach your goals. But don’t be afraid to adapt when needed. It is best to keep a flexible mindset when making long-term resolutions.