So, it has been a few days into the new year and we’ve all heard the age-old adage “New Year, New You.” And while in theory it’s nice, as we all know, the seemingly harmless ‘fresh starts’ and promises we make to better ourselves every year may be causing more harm than good.
Let’s not forget that Rome was not built in a day, people! In reality though, that’s how much time we give ourselves to be reinvented, from our old ways on 31 December to our new and dazzling selves on 1 January. And while it’s great to start that diet or promise to spend less time on social media, research shows that we are only setting ourselves up for failure.
According to a study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes an average of 66 days to make or break a habit (and sometimes way longer!). So if you swore on giving up sweets but are salivating at the cookie jar, don’t beat yourself up about it. Furthermore, going to the gym for one week straight won’t turn you into a gym rat. You’ll have to keep it up into March to see real results and changes in the wiring of your brain. As Peter Bregman wrote in the Harvard Business Review Network;
A specific, measurable, time-bound goal drives behavior that’s narrowly focused and often leads to either cheating or myopia.
We set ourselves up to fail because we don’t give ourselves enough room to account for the inevitabilities of life. Imagine walking on a tightrope and you’ve got a pretty good idea about the wiggle room we allow ourselves in our resolutions. It’s not that simple to completely overhaul our normal lives in one go.
Our “normal” lives consist of routines that keep us safe, organized, and efficient. If you think about it, it’s a trait that undoubtedly kept our cave-dwelling ancestors safe. But Ahh! you say, they didn’t understand the temptations of Snapchat or chocolate cake. No argument there. How about this: instead of setting those lofty goals for ourselves this 2017, what if we focus on the little things? Make a resolution to keep your cool when the barista at your coffee shop accidentally messes up your order and purposefully misspells your name. Resolve to smile and nod when Nana asks you about Uni and tells you that your major won’t get you a real job. Take your goals day by day.
Make little improvements and adjustments so that by the time day 66 rolls around, real change is starting to occur. Write down where you want to be and come back to it every so often to see how you are progressing.
Instead of blaming yourself for the failed goals or the backtracking, write a note to yourself about the things you have achieved and the attributes you love about yourself every so often to come back to when the promise and magic of the new year wears off.
I can say from experience that I have been writing letters to myself for the past couple of years and every New Year’s Eve I reflect on the year before and write a new letter to my younger, last-year self. I’ve found that the person who reminds me the most of how accomplished I am is myself when I’m in that optimistic, contemplative state that we all find ourselves in on New Year’s, sober or not.
This New Year’s Eve, take a look at our list below to help you stay on track when goal-setting. Raise a glass to not a ‘New You’, but a slightly better one! Cheers!
- Don’t go cold turkey. If you’re trying to quit something, the overwhelming cravings will have you feeling irritable, and you will end up binging on whatever it is you gave up.
- Start small. If you want to take up something regularly, don’t expect to be an expert right away. Start in smaller intervals, like doing it once or twice a week and then build up to the regularity you want.
- Don’t beat yourself up. We’re not perfect and sometimes a bad day will have us all falling off the proverbial wagon. If it happens once or twice, get back on the horse. It’s only when you quit that your resolutions get the best of you.
- Spread the word. If your goal requires changing your lifestyle, let your friends and family know so that they can support you and help you in your pursuit. You won’t feel so bad for skipping Nana’s special pie if she knows that you’re trying to shed a few pounds. Plus, when others know about your goals, there is accountability, so you’ll be more embarrassed to quit.
- Let it go. This applies to anybody trying for a fresh start this year. When we focus on our weaknesses or become frustrated with our past decisions, change can feel doubtful. We fall into a rut of “well, this is just how it’s gonna be” and don’t realize the power and strength we have.