This year I’m going to make terrariums in my lunch break. Eat meals made entirely of kale and quinoa. Speed-read broadsheets and savour James Joyce. Meditate on the hour, every hour. Make 3am more productive. Get a thousand Pinterest followers. Create the perfect SlideShare that goes viral.
Sound familiar? All year our inboxes and newsfeeds eagerly prod us with ways to better ourselves – so much so that our expectations can start to look something like this: ‘I’m going to smash those ten productivity hacks before breakfast. Find the secret to success and the meaning of life by lunchtime, and kick the bucket list over for good measure. This is going to be my year.’
Like me, you might have been busy delivering yourself a similar pep talk over the past month, but let’s be real: it’s already February and are we really going to change? Various studies suggest that somewhere between 78 and 90 per cent of us who made resolutions will break them. If the thought of this makes you despair, don’t be downhearted; get realistic! You might just surprise yourself if you do.
Only half of us actually get to the point of making resolutions, the other half prefer to stick to quick wins. You might assume that making difficult choices is the curse of being human, but we’re not alone. Researchers at Macquarie University have recently conducted experiments with bees, proving that they avoid difficult decisions just as we do. So if even the hard-working, team-playing, goal-dedicated bee avoids the tough calls, then what hope do we have?
There is actually some wisdom in not relying on the external push of new year hype to make big changes – it’s a time of year when we are susceptible to being overly ambitious. If you really want to change, you can start at any time, so if you’re one of the 50 per cent who haven’t made any formal resolutions, keep reading because you could still be ahead of the game.
Fitness First conducted a survey of over 1500 Australians in December 2014, asking about their attitudes and commitments towards new year’s resolutions, and found that only nine per cent were confident of sticking to their goals. That’s a lot of people letting themselves off the hook before they’ve even tried. The top factors blamed for broken resolutions were ‘too much effort’ (56 per cent) and ‘not enough time’ (42 per cent). It’s normal to come up against these kinds of excuses before committing to your goal, but if a few weeks have gone by and you’re still wearing them out then you could be in trouble.
Tell people of your goals, just don’t splash it all over social media thinking that the potential of public egg-on-face alone will keep you on track. Being accountable is important, but keep the life-changing stuff for those around you who will actually help you to reach out for support when you need it. If you tell the doubters then you might just hear your own doubts reflected back at you.
If your goals came into being on December 31, then chances are you still haven’t actually started. Or maybe you have but there’s more you can be doing. Most of us know that goals need to be specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T), but even if they’re a long-term goal, we shouldn’t wait until the end of the year to reflect on them.
Take Miho Kubagawa wrote about her successful year of resolutions for the Huffington Post. For the whole of 2013 she and a dozen friends committed to 12 one-month resolutions, emailing each other on the first of every month to say how they went and what they’d be doing next. They even set up a Google Doc to track everyone’s progress, and she says the group has become ‘each other’s greatest cheerleaders.’ Whether you’re committing to 12 resolutions or just one, the lesson here is to track your progress as you go.
And no, I don’t mean Tony Robbins, Richard Branson or Dr Phil. To give you an idea, mine’s Mr Blobby. He’s a plastic, overweight looking clown figurine with wild eyes and a demented smile – he’s so unhinged-looking that I take one look at his face and it reminds me that life’s a bit crazy and we all just need to try and cope.
My point is not to exclusively idolise people or fictional characters who appear to have it all together. Sometimes we don’t need icons, we need flawed, bumbling mascots. It’s a point that Dr Betul Sekendiz of Central Queensland University makes when talking of our resolution to be healthier: ‘This can be achieved if a person knows their personal weakness and strengths as much as the threats and opportunities in their external environment …’ We don’t need gods, we need to understand that we’re all doing our best.
If you’re feeling paralysed by the mammoth task you’ve given yourself then you might have started looking for distractions. Or maybe you’re just leaving it to the last minute to give it a real go, because then if you fail you can blame the fact that you didn’t give it enough time.
When you feel overwhelmed the best thing you can do is to break the big goal down into small tasks with set timeframes. You can even set yourself up with some killer apps that will turn off notifications and prompt you to stay on track. Basically, you’ve got to keep the carrot dangling close to your face or you’ll forget it’s there.
There’s no better motivation than rewarding yourself as you go. When making changes, we’re like puppies in training – give us treats and we won’t revert to old behaviours as quickly. Did you finish your daily task? Fortnightly sprint? Great, spend an hour reading that trashy magazine or searching for vintage cars you can’t afford. Then get straight back into it.
How can you expect to reach your goals if you don’t visualise? Try writing down all of the potential benefits of you achieving your goals to get your imagination sparking. Then let the daydreaming begin. Procrastinators, rejoice: there are scientifically proven ways to help you overcome the beast. You're welcome.
You’re probably thinking: of course! But sometimes the problem with resolutions is that they need to be resolved or we have failed the test.
It’s a thought that some business thinkers share, suggesting that so-called ‘stretch’ goals need to be treated with more care. Adam Galinsky in Goals Gone Wild suggests that goal setting can lead us to focus on the wrong things and in turn bring on extreme behaviours.
The problem is that we often talk in absolutes – I must lose 10 kilos; I have to get paid more. We do need to define and measure small increments of success, but such resolutions can be restricting. You might have resolved to lose weight, but actually the true goal is to feel healthy, confident and to have more energy. Maybe you’re focused on getting a promotion, but is it really about the promotion or do you want to foster more of an interest in your work or put yourself in a position to learn something new?
If your resolutions are slipping away all too easily, then try reframing your language to focus less on the attainment of something. Perhaps you want a state of working less, of less financial stress, of greater creativity, of social connectedness, of self-improvement, or a passion for what you do. This leaves you in a position of flexibility, of being open to changing how you might get there. Who knows, there might also be a slightly different place to the one you pictured briefly while basking in the afterglow of fireworks and a few champagnes.