How to salvage a broken New Year’s resolution

Richard Reid
FILE TO GO WITH Nepal-Everest-environmen
Too many of us set ourselves up for failure, with a fixed notion of how they should be approached (Source: Getty)

As we move into February, it is probably fair to assume that many of you will have already abandoned your New Year’s resolutions. You may even be giving yourself a hard time about this and be feeling completely demotivated or lacking in self-worth.

The reality is that most of these resolutions were doomed from the outset because we inadvertently set ourselves up for failure by setting unreasonable expectations.

Human beings are basically sophisticated animals, and just like animals, many of our thinking patterns are steeped in the mists of time. We are prone to think in terms of absolutes (“all or nothing” thinking).

This leaves very little leeway for setbacks or, indeed, taking into account the reality of our circumstances. For instance, if you haven’t been particularly active in the past, then it is a massive ask to suddenly expect yourself to be able to commit to going jogging five times per week, on top of an already demanding work and home life.

But because we have told ourselves that we “should” be doing this, we place ourselves under immense pressure, which invariably backfires. This failure generally reinforces the idea that our goals are at best difficult, and in many cases unattainable. And this undermines our future resolve even further.

However, just because we may have encountered a setback in achieving our New Year’s resolutions, it doesn’t mean that we must wait to try again until next year. Here are three tips for achieving your goals.

Set measurable and achievable targets

If the target is too vague (e.g. has no milestones or dates) or it is too difficult, then it is likely to lack impetus or simply seem too overwhelming. This means we will become adversely fixated upon the ultimate outcome rather than the process which can help us to get there. This will act as a clear demotivator.

Establish mini-goals that will act as guide

Imagine that you wanted to climb Mount Everest. If you stood at the foot of the mountain looking up, then the chances are that you would feel completely overwhelmed and rapidly give up – if you tried to start at all! However, breaking the overall task down into smaller parts alleviates some of this anxiety by making the immediate objectives far less daunting and more likely to achieve a positive outcome.

Small wins tend to boost self-belief and generate greater positive momentum towards the main objective. In the event of any setbacks, this strategy also helps to contain the extent of our negative reactions, meaning that we are more likely to persevere in the face of adversity. For example, if your New Year’s resolution was to eat more healthily, then you may wish to begin by focusing upon tweaking one specific meal of the day or cutting back on a food type such as crisps or sugary snacks.

Apply a growth mindset attitude to your New Year’s resolution

Unfortunately, most of us have a fixed notion of how we “should” approach our goals and what the outcomes should be. As soon as we deviate from the plan because of external circumstances, illness or human frailty, we regard this as complete failure. Try to view any potential setbacks as feedback rather than failure. This allows you to remain flexible in your approach and to review and adapt the plan considering events as they unfold.

For instance, if your resolution was to eat more healthily and you stray off focus when someone unveils a cake in the office, don’t give up or vow to start again tomorrow, next week or next year. Review the learnings and simply draw a line under that part of the day and actively apply the new insights as soon as possible. This is the best way to ensure positive momentum.

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