It has come to that time of year once again when we set our sights towards making the New Year the best one yet by setting out grand resolutions for positive change.
But for some, their bold plans will last about as long as their intention to not overindulge during the holiday season.
As we head towards 2018, we recognise the New Year as an opportunity to begin with a clean slate, a chance to set our stall on solid ground and make this the year where we truly bring out the best in ourselves.
Alas, past research offers bleak insights into the strength of our willpower, with around 80% of Americans said to give up on their resolutions by mid-February, while roughly 66% of Brits revert to their old habits within the first month.
So what’s going on? At the turn of the New Year, a good many of us are clearly excited by the idea of making major changes: what is it that kills our inspiration so quickly?
It turns out that the devil might be in the expectation – we tend to anticipate results arising more quickly than they actually do.
One reason for this is belief in the myth that it takes around 20 days for a habit to form; however, not all habits are created equally. Research conducted in 2009 at University College London (UCL) suggests that, on average, it takes 66 days for a habit to form – but it all depends on the habit.
For example, if you resolve to drink a glass of water first thing every morning, that’s a simple task and, done consistently, is likely to cement itself as a habit within 20 days or so.
Comparatively, resolving to go on a 10-minute morning walk every day could take as long as 50 days to become habitual.
UCL researchers predicted that more complex habits could take up to 250 days to form for those to whom discipline doesn’t come easily.
While this might at first seem rather dreary, the research acts as a helpful yardstick by which to measure our efforts.
After all, if we have no idea about how long progress should take, it’s understandable that our thoughts might turn towards giving up at the first hurdle.
With that in mind, here are four things that can help you stay the course and make 2018 a year of success.
1) Reflect on the top three changes you’d like to make
We can seduce ourselves into setting multiple goals for the year ahead, which is sure to lead to feelings of overwhelm.
Instead – before you even think the words ‘gym membership’ – give some thought to what changes really matter to you, and why. Having a clear sense of purpose before setting a goal will help to boost your focus and commitment.
This is more effective than to name a few changes you’d like to make and then try to pin a purpose to them; use that approach and it won’t be long before the words, “Oh well, there’s always next year” sound from your mouth in quiet desperation.
2) Discipline trumps motivation
As we look ahead to the New Year with excitement, it’s easy to get pumped up about what we might be able to achieve and how accomplished we’ll feel when we succeed.
But when it comes to the crunch, the motivation to follow through can disappear quicker than a tasty Christmas pudding as we head towards February.
To counter this, it’s important to realise that motivation is frequently unreliable and, in any case, isn’t responsible for our efforts – we are, and that calls for consistent, deliberate action every day.
Having a sense of discipline – engaging in certain behaviours regardless of whether we want to or not – is what helps to bring about real change.
It might not be as attractive as motivation, but it is a whole lot more dependable.
3) Celebrate the small victories
Let’s say we resolve to go to the gym three times each week.
In setting goals, we tend to focus on the big pay-off (e.g. the weight lost, increased stamina, the six pack abs) but this takes time and effort and so it can be deflating when we don’t see results right away.
Instead, shift your perspective – celebrate the small victories.
Whether you managed your first 3km on the treadmill, or pushed out a challenging set of squats, or even if you’ve been consistent in stepping into the gym for a week, two weeks, a month…it all counts.
Celebrate the small victories and they’ll push you on to achieving even bigger wins.
4) Have fun, enjoy the process and be patient
Resolutions shouldn’t feel like chores. We should only set goals for ourselves when we truly see their value.
Anything that enhances our lives should be fun to engage with and, if we work at our goals with the mindset of enjoying the process, the bigger picture will take care of itself.
Keep in mind that patience is a virtue: anything worthwhile takes time to achieve, so focus on doing the best you can, enjoy the ride, and the results will fall into place in time through your patience, determination, and consistent efforts.
Sandy Clarke is a writer from the UK who has over 10 years of experience in journalism and PR. He looks forward to seeing what challenges 2018 brings and how long his resolutions will last. To connect with Sandy, follow him on Twitter @RealSClarke