The statistics on keeping New Year's resolutions aren't great. Most people fail to last much beyond the end of January. So what can you do to improve your chances? Well many of the things that we can use to help influence others we can also focus internally to help our own efforts.
Knowing why we want to do something and how it fits in with what we desire and fear is an important first step. Many resolutions fail just because they aren't really important to the person who makes them.
This year my resolution is to reduce the negative impacts of the digital world such as mobile phone usage and reduced concentration. In itself I'm not that bothered about these negatives - I could quite happily spend all day browsing random social media articles on my phone. What I am bothered about is the impact it's having on my stress levels and the poor sleep it can lead to. I'm interested in this because I see it as one way of helping to get over the medical condition that's stopped me running the races I want to run.
So me unpacking my resolution lets me focus on why I really want to do it.
Understanding why you really want to start gym classes/learn something new/stop smoking is the first step to achieving it.
Consistency & Commitment
As human beings we like to feel and be seen to be consistent. We start to feel uncomfortable when we have said we will do something and then fail to do it. In these situations we will often make excuses or find someone or something to blame for our lack of consistency.
'Going public' is one way to increase the number of people who we wish to appear consistent to. Telling people on social media and in person what you are planning to do and asking them to hold you to account can increase this urge to be consistent, helping us over the obstacles in our path.
The act of going public is an act of commitment. Any tangible act of commitment will improve your desire to be consistent. This could be a written pledge that you make with your close family or a reminder of what you have agreed to do somewhere that you will see it.
To help me be consistent with my aim I'm going to write a post at the end of every month detailing how I'm getting on. Feel free to badger me in person, on Twitter or LinkedIn if I don't write it.
We are more likely to do things that we see others doing. Marketers use this to sell things, attempting to make something the 'must have' item. We can use it to help stick to our resolutions by finding someone else who is trying to do what we are trying to do, or better has already done it, and using them as the social proof that it's achievable.
I help out at my local running group and have helped a number of people complete the Couch to 5K Programme. As a group we organise one of the three recommended sessions per week and the individual does the other two. By far the most successful completers on our programmes are those who work with others on the programme to do the remaining two sessions. They prove to each other that it's possible and don't want to be the one left behind.
If you are struggling to find others who have the same aim as you then consider social media. There are often groups for those just starting out at something and this can provide good social proof that you're not alone and that it's possible.
A word of warning on social proof. It doesn't just work in positive ways. Be cautious of seeing others fail to live up to their resolutions and viewing it as social proof that it's okay for you to stop.
Although it varies in extent, there is an inbuilt desire to follow authority. Finding a credible authority that supports why you want to do what you want to do can help you remain consistent, particularly if you remind yourself of this regularly.
For example, if you want to stop smoking then this health advice from the NHS on the benefits of quitting should be regularly reading. There are lots of credible sources out there for most of the things that people hope to achieve at the start of the year and reminding yourself what the experts say can help you stick at it.
As a general rule we are more concerned about what we'll lose than by what we'll gain. We can use this to frame statements around our resolution.
"I'm losing out on the sleep I need to recover properly to train by looking at my phone in bed." is more powerful than "I will get better sleep if I leave the phone downstairs."
Writing down a number of these loss statements around your resolution and revisiting them can reinforce what you will lose if you give up.
Life often gets in the way of keeping our resolutions. Planning now, before we try to start can help identify these issues. When I stopped smoking several years ago I identified in advance social situations which would make me more likely to have a cigarette. I then either avoided them temporarily or took some other action such as volunteering to drive so that the addition of alcohol couldn't reduce my will power.
It's not just about identifying the obstacles but also identifying opportunities that we hadn't thought about. Will getting fit mean that we can do an activity on holiday that we wouldn't have been able to do before? Will stopping smoking mean that we have money for something else.
I've already turned off all the notifications on my phone as a first step to reducing it's impact on me and I've got a clear list of things I'm doing from January 1st.
Good luck with whatever you are hoping to stick to in 2018.