Surviving January – and the rest of the year
New Year – New You! It’s what all the advertisers are shouting about just now, especially those advertising exercise and clothes. There’s also lots of help out there if you want to know to what to do in 2019, this new and fabulous year. A quick google search brings you 52 places to travel to in 2019, 35 most anticipated movies of 2019, 20 new year’s resolutions for better ... (you name it - physical health, mental health, etc.) and numerous other ideas. I’m not sure about you, but my e.mail inbox has been inundated with messages recently showing me all the things I can buy to make the new year better: clothes, books, house décor, spa visits, gym memberships, courses; the list is endless.
To be fair, I do believe growth is good and I’m all for supporting people to change. So if you’re one who regularly makes news years resolutions, go for it! Resolutions can be good. They come hand-in-hand with the new year. And if you’re one who regularly makes – and sticks to – new years resolutions, even better. Know, though, that you’re in a minority. I’ve read estimates that 80% of new years resolutions fail by the second week of February. That’s 6 weeks. And others suggest that 30% of people who make resolutions give up after just 2 weeks. This inability to stick to resolutions seems to feature in the calculation of when ‘Blue Monday’ (supposedly the most depressing day of the year) falls, along with other variables like weather, debt and a couple of other things. So if we’re one of those in the majority – one who makes resolutions yet finds difficulty in sticking with them – what can we do to get through Blue Monday, survive January and remain hopeful into February and the rest of the year?
One of the first things we can do is remember that change is difficult. Extremely difficult. When was the last time you successfully changed your behaviour? Have you quit smoking? Was that easy? Did you start a new exercise regime? How long did it take you to make this a habit? Research confirms that change is hard – and the commonly quoted ’21-days-to-change-a-habit’ rule seems to be inaccurate. Apparently, it can take anywhere from 18 to 245 days to successfully change a habit, though the average time for successful habit change in one particular study conducted in 2010 was 66 days. That’s over three months. So it’s no wonder that if we haven’t attained a new habit 6 weeks – or 42 days – into the new year, we might give up. We expected quicker results – and we more than likely expected the change to be easier. So remember change is difficult. Why? Because you will be better able to manage your expectations around your resolutions AND be better able to be realistic in your expectations about your resolutions. Don't expect too much too quickly.
The second thing we can do is keep going. If we really want to change something about our lives – our diet, how active we are, how much we read, whatever – we don’t need to give up at the first, second or even third sign of failure. This is especially important if we miss a day or two here or there. Lots of times, when that happens, it is far easier to give up and say to ourselves, “I can’t do this,” rather than saying, “Oops, I forgot. Let me try again.” So, in other words, we can be kinder to ourselves – and allow ourselves to make mistakes like any other human being. There will be a point – you will need to decide when that is – when you’ll need to re-evaluate how important it is to you to keep a resolution that you’re having difficulty with. Perhaps it was the wrong resolution or perhaps it’s the wrong time to make that change. And that’s ok. But if it’s something that you still feel is right for you right now, then keep trying and try different things. If you want to eat more fruit, try having a piece of fruit at the same time every day. If you want to exercise more, it might help to do this with a friend. One place to start if you’re determined to keep your new years resolutions 'no matter what' is with Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before, which offers 21 strategies you can use to make or break habits. If you’re not ready to read the book, but are intrigued about what these strategies are, have a look at her blog post about her book.
The third thing we can do is make our resolutions at a different time. Changes in our lives don’t have to start on the 1st of January. We can decide to make changes in our lives any time we want to. Want it to be associated with the new year? Why not the Chinese New Year or the Korean New Year (these are on the 5th of February this year)? Or the start of the Muslim (30th August) or Jewish New Year (29th of September)? If our resolution doesn’t need to be associated with a new year, maybe choose another significant event: your birthday, the start of the academic school year, some other holiday (Cinco de Mayo is a favourite of mine, probably because I celebrate with tacos!). In other words - and as above - we can be kinder with ourselves and not force ourselves to stick to making all our changes on the 1st of January. We could have made our resolutions at the beginning of year, but chosen to implement the resolutions throughout the year. New beginnings can happen at any time we choose.
So, if you’re committed to your new years resolutions, these are a few ways to keep them going throughout the year. And, of course, there is always the option to give the whole new years resolutions thing a miss. I remember the first time I did that a few years back. It felt a bit strange, but I’m here, years later, to tell the tale. I survived that year without resolutions and so can you. The best reason I can think of for stepping off the new years resolutions bandwagon is that the excitement around creating a ‘new’ self at the start of the new year implies that there is something deficient in us as we are just now. Yes, we all have the capacity to grow and develop. But that doesn’t mean we need to create a ‘new’ us. Perhaps this is the year we can just let ourselves be who we are in all our messy human-ness – and be ok with that.
However you choose to progress into and throughout 2019, may it be your best year yet.