06 January 2017

The Secrets of Success

How To Set Realistic New Year's Resolutions

Struggling with those New Years resolutions? You're not alone. But let's ignore those mopey eegits spewing statistics, you CAN do it – easily! Best of all there's no catch, no inhuman effort, no huge sacrifices, no hypnosis, psychosis or hocus pocus, just real, positive ways you can achieve success and the satisfied sense of accomplishment that goes along with it. So let's make it happen!

How To Set Realistic New Year's Resolutions

Had enough of Christmas yet? The turkey wasn't the only thing that got stuffed was it?

Tipping the scales in tight trousers and viewing bars of chocolate like Dracula might a crucifix, we start the New Year full of good intentions. Come the following Friday, though, we're already starting to crumble.

But not to worry, that's normal.

First to appear on your left shoulder is Good You, the little cartoon angel imploring you to stick the course, "no pain, no gain!"

But then up pops Bad You, the little cartoon devil whispering in your right ear, telling you to just pack it in and enjoy yourself instead. 

The true trick to success is to realize that they're both wrong. Because they're both just one-dimenional caricatures. Neither is the True You.

What Is A New Year's Resolution?

The first step is to ask yourself what is a new year's resolution?

Because, more often than not, the reason we fail to keep our resolutions is because we've failed to correctly make them in the first place.

There are actually two kinds of resolutions; vague, open-ended wishy-washy ones and specific, goal-based ones which are easily measured.  

The first kind are over-ambitious at best, impossible to keep at worst and come with failure built-in.

The second kind are carefully crafted and clearly structured with a start, middle and end plus lots of small steps you can cross off along the way – your stairway to success.

So what's it gonna be? Do I really need to ask? Thought so…    

Popular New Year's Resolution Examples

This year I'm going to eat healthier, I'm going to drink less, exercise more, lose a load of weight and quit smoking – all at the same time!

Sound familiar? 

Others are even more loosely defined, I'm going to be more assertive, stay positive, stop procrastinating and spend more time with my family.

All of the above resolutions are impossible to keep – and it's got nothing to do with motivation or willpower.

It's because without any clear way to measure success, you're guaranteed not to find any.  

And that's why New Year's Resolutions have such a massive failure rate.

How Long Do New Year's Resolutions Last?

Based on multiple sources, from surveys in the US, UK and here in Ireland, roughly between 33% - 45% of people fail to keep their New Year's resolutions.

But that's not you, because you're smarter than them, and you're going to do it the right way.  

Why Can't I Keep My New Year's Resolutions?

According to this article by the BBC, it's a combination of unrealistic expectations with poorly-defined goals, combined with fear of failure. This fear infects our minds, sapping our motivation becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

We make this fear even worse by publicising our resolutions – under the misguided notion that, by telling everyone, we will force ourselves to stick to them. But this only makes the fear of failure even worse.

In fact most the time we only make it worse, turning what ought to be a rewarding journey of self improvement into an unbearable chore. Now, suddenly, we feel as though everyone is judging us, or worse, waiting for us to fail, so we give up anyway.

It's the same story with people trying to pin their good intentions on an expensive purchase like a new treadmill, exercise bike or Fitbit – well I've spent all this money now so now I have to stick to it!

This is the gym membership fallacy – in fact it's how they make their money. There's only so much space, only so many machines but they're expecting lots of people to sign up full of good intentions then taper off as the weeks and months go by. It's the reason they always try to get you to sign up for long contracts.

It's not always a matter of personal committment, either. More likely when you factor in work, commutes, various time-sapping errands, not to mention family and social engagements, a gym membership isn't always a practical solution.

Fact is not all of us have time to the gym every day – but we can always make time for exercise.

Whereas the guilt of not going can kill your motivation, not to mention the money going out of your account every month.

How To Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

Negative thoughts torpedo your resolutions, whereas positive reinforcement helps make them successful. So, when setting your resolutions, it's important to consider how you phase them.

It's also vital that you measure progress in a positive way by setting realistic goals, rather than specific targets and avoid anything which might sap your motivation.

So, for example, if your goal is to lose weight, say "I'm going to start losing weight", not, "I need to lose weight" – one makes you feel positive, the other negative.

Instead of setting a target amount to lose, which leads to disappointment and disillusionment if you fail to meet it (especially if you're jumping on the scales every day, which only makes things worse) say something like, "I'm going to start losing weight and let's see how those jeans fit in February."

Sticking to a single goal

There's no such thing as multitasking, at least not in the way most people use the phrase. Multitasking is actually a computing term; computers multitask, humans can't. All we can do is lose focus and do multiple tasks poorly.

So don't try to do too many things at once. Pick one priority resolution and stick to that. Losing weight is quite hard, quitting smoking is really hard, trying to do both at the same time will make you miserable (I know this first hand) and statistically, your chances of success are slim. 

Setting Micro Goals

The next step is to then set micro goals. So break your goal down into individual steps. What do you need to do this week, what do you need to do today, this hour, this minute…

So, "I'm going to lose weight…" becomes, "Instead of stopping at the deli and wasting money I'm going to pack a healthy lunch."

Setting microgoals also makes more sense because you can scale things up in small increments.

Saying "I'm going to do 100 pushups" makes no sense if you can barely do ten without feeling bad about yourself.

Instead say, "I'm going to do ten a day this week, then add five more each week until I can finally do 100".

Mindfulness is also key, as not only does it help you to focus on your goals, it also serves as your best line of defense against temptation….

Silencing the Bad You

You can hear Bad You all the time, looking for that quick fix of fake-fun that, if you give in, makes you feel guilty. And now that it's Friday no doubt he/she is tapping away on your nerves like a woodpecker.

Just one bite, just one sip, just one puff – whatever it might be.

"Go on! Have one! Just one! Go on! You've been real good all week"

And it sometimes feels like everyone around you is trying to torture you. Coworkers bring in sweets and cakes, friends invite you for drinks and get all Missus Doyle when you decline, the whole world seems to be filled with happy people eating burgers, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes…

Just remember who's in charge – you are!

Make your excuses, say thanks but no thanks, politely decline – don't give a reason, don't turn it into "a thing" – it’s not really important what you tell them, it's more important what you tell yourself.

No, I'm sticking to my guns. I'm going to do this, I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but it's going to get easier, every single day, until I achieve my goals.

Remember the reasons you made this decision in the first place, your feelings at the time and your determination that you're not going to feel that way again.

Falling off the wagon

Look, it's going to happen.

That sneaky slice of cake, that, without realizing, becomes a second slice. (Been there.)

That cheeky puff on week two that apparently feels great yet somehow sends ripples of nausea through your entire body and leaves you feeling sick and wheezy. (Done that.)

That "ah ok, but just the one" after work on Friday that ended up with you serenading strangers outside your local Abrakebabra. (Been told I've done that.)

It's hard not to give into our temptations. For the first five seconds or so it feels good but then, "why did I do that exactly?"

Then comes the shame and the guilt.

So what do you do? Well, Bad You wants to make you miserable, to give up and feel sorry for yourself.

Instead you need to remember the magic word, "ooops!"

Look what you done there clumsy! You fell off the wagon and had a few bounces. So up you get, dust yourself off, a small sprint and a jump and you're back on there again. Hopefully this time around you'll have learned your lesson, right?

Even then you may well fall off multiple times, but don't focus on that, focus on getting back up.  

Fun New Year's Resolutions

Besides, who says you can't have some fun?

If running on a treadmill in a room of sweaty strangers makes you miserable don't do it.

What activities did you enjoy as a kid? Swimming? Cycling?

Perhaps instead of saying, "I'm going to lose weight" say, "I'm going to cycle to work every day."

Or walk, or rollerblade – whatever feels fun and fresh and exciting.   

Best of all, once you get home you'll feel a different type of tired, not the stressed out workday lethargy that drains your lifeblood away, but a more healthy tired, the kind that comes from getting fresh air and exercise and helps you get a good night's sleep.

New Year, New You!

Today's Little Christmas, the very last day of the festive season. So if you fancy one last hurrah we've got just the thing. It's low in calories and cholesterol, it's sugar, fat and gluten free, with no added colours or preservatives. Just a sweet €37 million jackpot that's ripe for the plucking – EuroMillions!