Did you set a New Year’s resolution?

Have you stuck to it? 

A few weeks into the New Year, after we’ve well and truly gotten back to our usual routines, sometimes these good intentions go awry, so now is a perfect time to revisit them.

Often our new year’s resolutions relate to our health and may be centred around healthy eating, or getting more active.  In order for these to be successful, we need to understand our reasons, and our priorities. We also need to understand our current habits, in order to break them.

In “The Talent Code”, by Daniel Coyle, he explains that habits cannot be broken, but we need to replace them with new ones.  This is why so many people try, and fail, to make lifelong changes.  The previous habits are ingrained, and therefore, it takes a lot of repetition for a new, perhaps healthier habit to replace it.  Let me use an example to explain.

A common trait amongst my patients is skipping breakfast, because “I don’t have time”.  In the new year with your first few days back at work, you may set your alarm a bit earlier, and get up on the first ring, make breakfast and eat it before leaving home.  Five or six days in, after a late night, when the alarm goes, and you’re feeling sleepy – it’s still dark outside – you hit snooze and roll over.  This continues for a second and a third day, and before you know it, that New Year’s resolution to have breakfast every day has fallen by the wayside.

What happens next is important.  Some people will say “I’ve failed”, and that will be it.  There’s no point in trying, it would never have worked anyway.  Some will beat themselves up over this failure, and take on even more unhealthy attitudes – healthy breakfast failed, so why bother with everything else.

However, I have a challenge for you.  Let’s go back to this resolution – to eat a healthy breakfast every day, and let’s break it down.  Get a pen and paper, and answer these questions:

  • Why is this resolution important to me?
  • What are the benefits for introducing this new habit?
  • What are the negatives? (in this particular case, less sleep, need to be more organised etc.)
  • Is there any way of eliminating the negatives?
  • What stories am I telling myself that are making it difficult to change my habits?
  • Could I tell myself a different story?

In this example of eating breakfast, your reasons might be so that you don’t get hungry and snack on unhealthy foods before lunch.  Benefits may include weight loss, more stable energy levels.  The negatives – the need to be more organised and possibly less sleep.

We could eliminate the negatives by being even more organised – perhaps preparing breakfast the night before, or shopping for healthier breakfasts that are ‘grab and go’ – a healthy breakfast needn’t take longer than 5 minutes to make.  The story could be ‘I need more sleep – it’s too hard to wake up early, etc.’…  But perhaps the story could change to, feeding myself with nutritious food first thing in the morning will make me have a better day.

Maybe your resolution was different?  Perhaps it was about exercising every day, or something else.  You can still reignite your motivation and start again by breaking down your resolution down into your reasons for doing it, understanding what’s stopping you and figuring out a legitimate way to introduce this new habit into your life.  For example, with Let’s Get Moving, we talk about the importance of being active every day, and that as little as 10 minutes of walking a day can make a lot of positive differences to your health.

When it’s 10 minutes out of the 1440 we have in a day, the “I don’t have time” excuse doesn’t really tally up, especially when its walking.  But, you may need to make some changes to plan it in logistically – for example getting up from your desk at work.  In fact, I had a patient a few weeks ago who had come back for his 12-week appointment; while he had wanted to do Badminton and Swimming once a week, this just didn’t fit into his hectic lifestyle which involved looking after his children, a daily commute to London and quite intense work life – the kind of work where the work is never done.  Taking time out to do Badminton or Swimming any more than once a week just wasn’t on.  However, he figured out himself that getting up from his desk at lunchtime and going out to get something to eat with his colleagues was giving him about 10 minutes of walking at lunchtime, and some social interaction that gave him a chance to take a break.  Both of these things have been beneficial for his physical and mental health, and it didn’t require a painful change.

So, if you’ve made a new year’s resolution and you’re struggling to keep to it, don’t despair instead follow these simple steps to help you get back on track.

  • Understand your reason for the resolution
  • Identify your barriers/ objections to achieving that resolution
  • Figure out practical ways you can overcome these barriers so that you can easily make this change within your current lifestyle.

And here are some extra resources to help you along the way:

Simon Sinek, Author of “Start with Why”, which I also recommend shares his ideas on what motivates us on this fantastic Ted talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

23 and a half hours – This video tells us about the single best thing we can do to improve our health: https://youtu.be/aUaInS6HIGo