Sitting on the stairs, tying the laces of my shiny new Adidas trainers, I wondered if I’d made the right choice. There were so many things I could have chosen for my new year’s resolution – eat more greens, go to bed earlier, drink less, study harder. I’d chosen to get fit. I peered apprehensively out of the window into the howling gale. Sighing ‘new year, new me’, I stepped outside for my first January run. Freezing doesn’t cover it.
Within a couple of weeks I had given up. Sprawled on the sofa with a consoling tub of chocolate ice-cream I wondered why I had bothered in the first place. All that I had gained was a mild chest infection and a gnawing disappointment in myself for giving up so quickly. I soon learned, however, I was not the only one feeling this way.
Studies tell us that around 88% people fail their new year’s resolution. What makes them so hard to achieve? Professor of Psychology, Timothy Pychyl, believes people fail their resolutions because they make them before they are really ready to change their habits. The post-Christmas blues can leave us reflecting over the past year and thinking about the future.
What do we want to change, what can we improve? We use the ‘New year, new me’ mantra to try and motivate us into re-inventing ourselves for the better but we just do it too soon. We need to really want a change for it to work. What we want this change to be is something that requires thought. Jumping straight in to a new routine without proper planning and motivation is a sure set up for failure.
New Year’s Resolutions are too long term. Despite the best intentions, by March most people have failed. Before long you are back where you started with an added bout of damaged self-esteem. Psychologist Peter Herman and colleagues have suggested that we can attribute this failure largely to what they aptly call ‘False Hope Syndrome’. We choose resolutions that will last all year and that we hope will change our lives for the better. When all our old problems continue despite our dedication to our New Year’s Resolution, people lose motivation to continue them.
“a new routine without proper planning and motivation is a sure set up for failure…”
Psychologist and author Ray Williams says the best way to overcome this is to plan a series of smaller goals that can be started at any time in the year we choose. This takes the pressure off a panicked, January start and builds up our confidence through small achievements rather than diminishing it through failure.
Howard Friedman, co-author of The Longevity Project, strongly advises against New Year’s Resolutions. They tire you, damage your self-esteem, require difficult time commitments and increase stress – they are a complete health disaster. According to Friedman, the best way of improving yourself is not through unachievable goals. He says that the healthiest, happiest people are typically responsible, dedicated and persistent, and have strong interests and social relationships. They don’t worry about getting eight hours of sleep a night or reading two books a week. Their lifestyles naturally facilitate the development of healthy, happy patterns.
But how can this be achieved? Friedman’s advice is to surround yourself with happy, active people. Altering your lifestyle and thought processes will encourage change in your own lifestyle patterns life without having to worry about it.
So if you really are motivated to change yourself, call up an active friend and start practicing positive thinking. Otherwise, curl up under a duvet, put on a good film and don’t feel guilty. After all it’s still cold outside.