According to a recent article in New Scientist, only 10 per cent of new year resolutions will survive the whole year. It’s hardly a surprise to most of us…haven’t we all taken out an ill-fated gym membership / committed to Dry January only to fall at the first weekend after the first January-blues week / joined a slimming group only to slink away by February …etc etc etc…. The article also states it takes up to 65 days to break a habit – that’s a long time to keep up that willpower, so we need all the help we can get. This is especially the case if we are struggling with a dependency on something like alcohol, eating, gambling, porn where our brains have become wired to compel us to carry on doing what we know brings us pleasure.
So why do so many of us struggle to keep promises to ourselves? Are there some tips we can follow to help us do better? And can counselling help?
The first problem is usually that we try to commit to too many things. Instead of breaking our goal down into small chunks we might tell ourselves ‘I’m going to stop drinking / gambling / watching porn / eating too much ice cream – ever.’ It’s very endearing but basically, we are just too optimistic about what we can achieve.
So, the first thing is being very specific about your main priority. The second thing is not just setting your goal, but, crucially, planning how to achieve it. Start with smaller changes before you work up to the main goal. Take over eating for example, rather than instantly attempt a reduction in your calories to the 1500 popular in the slimming world, you should try to prepare in advance with smaller changes – such as removing unhealthy snacks from the house. This may not seem like a change which is going to get you to your goal quickly enough – but no couch potato ever got up and instantly ran a marathon. It is a profound truth that a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.
This is basically because willpower is like a muscle, and building it up slowly over time and gently exercising it into growth and power can give you a better chance of resisting the temptation to enter into whatever unhealthy behaviour you’re struggling with.
Next, though it sounds counter intuitive, you should plan for failure – ask yourself “If I fail, why will I have failed?” This will help you put back up plans in place – for example if you know that when you hang out with the same friends in the evening you will end up drinking until you fall over, consider meeting up in the daytime when you won’t be tempted to drink.
Also, if you really want to stick with something, you need to think about how you can make it as enjoyable as possible. We humans aren’t great at not getting rewards for our behaviour in the form of some pleasure or gratification.
And finally, a key factor in success is to break big goals down into smaller, discrete steps. You may have heard of the SMART goals method – ensuring you are working toward milestones that are specific, measurable, agreed-upon, realistic and time-sensitive. So instead of resolving to “be healthy”, I can reframe it in terms of the SMART criteria: in the first week of January I will get rid of all the biscuits in the cupboard and exercise Tuesday evening; the second week I will get rid of all the high fat food in the freezer and exercise Tuesday and Thursday evening.
The “agreed-upon” part involves building a support network around yourself – this can really help meet your goals. By making friends and family aware of your commitment to change, you can increase the chances that you’ll stick to them.
Counselling and psychotherapy can help at lots of levels – really the whole process of counselling is about helping to support personal change and growth. Counselling can help you identify what is really important to you, which you may have lost sight of in the mayhem of modern life – and so can help you set meaningful goals that will help you achieve fulfilment. It will also support you along the way of reaching those goals you have set for yourself, helping you to identify possible obstacles and overcome them – and maximising your chance of success. Change isn’t easy, but with clarity, support and encouragement it is most definitely within your grasp. Here’s to a 2018 for you that will help you achieve meaning and fulfilment!