Happy new year everyone! For a lot of us, it’s quite a relief that we can finally put 2020 behind us and forge ahead. Around this time, it’s very common to see people set goals and make plans to make sure the year is as fulfilling as it can be. Almost everybody makes some form of commitment to improve an aspect of their lives over the course of the new year, and that sounds wonderful. But how many of us actually follow through on the new year resolutions we set for ourselves? We tell ourselves we’ll exercise more, read more books, save more money and on 1st January we seem so determined, but for a lot of people that energy lasts one week max😂. This might come as a surprise to you, but a study found that only 8% of people stick to their resolutions until the end of the year. Today I’m asking why this happens. Why do so many people fall short when it comes to following through on their New year resolutions, and how can we fix that?
The Planning Fallacy
Sometimes we’re too optimistic for our own good😂. A lot of people are quite comfortable setting massive goals to achieve during the year, but they underestimate the time and resources needed to finish what they start. Basically, human beings have an inherent bias where we downplay the required input for a task, and overestimate the results. This is called the Planning Fallacy, and if you’re honest with yourself, you can probably count a few times when you’ve fallen prey in the past. For example, some people might tell themselves that they’ll read one book per week throughout the year. This sounds like a good idea; it doesn’t seem so daunting at first, until you consider how you’re going to balance that with school or work. Do we consider that some books might take longer to read than others, or that certain distractions might make the task take longer? Deep down we are aware of the possibility that our resolutions are a bit too ambitious, but we go ahead and set them anyway, because on January 1 it feels like everything is possible. This is an unfortunate truth, but I’m sure there’s a practical solution in the next paragraph😉.
Use a Theme
A lot of people might suggest that you start the year with specific, measurable goals, but you’ve done that for years, and how well has that worked out so far? We constantly see people set high goals, fall short, lose confidence and continue the cycle year after year. Clearly that method isn’t as effective as we ‘d like, so let me suggest a gentler approach: Use a theme. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m going to lose X pounds by next year.” or “I’m going to read one book a week at least“, a theme would be something like: Year of Reading or Year of Health. If that sounds a bit vague, that’s the point. For some things, precision matters, for others it doesn’t. When trying to build yourself into a better version of you, exact data-points don’t matter, what matters is the trendline
If the trend is moving in the positive direction, so are you! Having a theme is like having a tiny robot friend to follow you on the year’s journey, reminding you to make little choices that contribute to your overall progress. It also helps you find new paths towards achieving a better you. Someone might start their Year of Health aiming to exercise more often, but maybe in the middle of the year, if they decide to improve their diet as well, the theme is flexible enough to accommodate the change. Isn’t that more convenient and merciful than chaining yourself to rigid goals at the start of the year? The important thing is that you end the year better than you started. If you can do that, it’s enough.
It’s Not About WIllpower
If you’re really committed to starting good habits and getting rid of bad ones, then you have to realize that there’s more to it than just having willpower. If you depend too much on willpower, there’s the very high chance that you’ll relapse on a bad day or when you’re not ‘in the mood‘. You see, willpower isn’t static; it comes and goes. Some experts even believe that it’s a limited resource and once it’s used up, the person experiences burnout. People who are successful with new year’s resolutions understand that the best way to get things done is not by fending off one big challenge after another, but by doing their best to minimize temptations. Science tells us that if you have a bigger bowl of popcorn, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll eat all of it, no matter how much willpower you have. So if you want to eat less popcorn, use a smaller bowl. In the same way, the key to sticking to the commitments you’ve made is to structure your environment in such a way that you depend less on willpower by making it easier to perform these tasks. For example, if you want to jog or go to the gym every morning, it would help to prepare your gym clothes the night before, and put them somewhere you’ll see immediately you wake up. The idea behind this is that we often don’t wake up motivated, so the convenience of not having to look for what to wear gives you an incentive to put the clothes on and head to the gym. I even had a friend who would sleep in his sports gear to make it easier for him to workout. I admit, that’s a bit unconventional, but it got results so…Who am I to judge😂? But seriously though, if you observe the 8% who ace their new year resolutions, you’ll realize that they use their high-willpower moments to prepare for the times when they might not feel so motivated. If you put this idea into practice, you’ll notice that with time, it gets easier and easier to complete certain tasks, whether you feel like it or not, and you’ll become really good at taking consistent action towards accomplishing your resolutions for the year 2021. You just have to take the first step.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a big fan of Greek and Roman mythology; The stories have endless drama😂. Anyway, I think you’ll find it interesting to know that January was named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, often depicted as facing both the future and the past. Maybe that’s one of the things that make new years so special. It’s an opportunity to reflect on all that happened in the previous year, and make plans for a better you and a brighter future. You decide what path to take, and I hope your path makes you happy. A prosperous new year to you all!
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