December 25th for many is the epitomy of a cheat day; a free pass to eat, drink and be merry on the promise that the new year will see a drastic diet and lifestyle overhaul. This belief allows us to happily abandon all restraint over the festive holidays, so come New Years Eve we start enthusiastically reciting our resolutions whilst simultaneously undoing our top button... Sadly for most, this eagerness and motivation dwindles rapidly and according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 30% of people who make a serious attempt at change drop out within two weeks and more than half give up by six months.
Same resolution as last year… lose 3 stones, eat healthier, exercise 5 times a week, quit smoking? Before announcing your resolutions ask yourself what’s different this time that will help you achieve the overwhelming inflexible year-long goal you are about to set? Will failure be waiting in the wings mid-February or will you join the elite few and succeed?
Please understand this: YOU have my full support if wishing to make healthier changes BUT overly ambitious resolutions will pave the way for failure and feelings of inadequacies, and fuel the “I can’t ever do this” belief. New Years resolutions tend to be big long term goals, goals which require a change of behaviour and to do this you need to explore your thoughts and feelings. So unless you think about your mindset (which can’t be achieved when toasting with your nearest and dearest at midnight on New Years Eve) your health goals are unlikely to be achieved.
If want to beat the odds and nail your your goal then some important questions to ask might be:
- what stopped you succeeding last time?
- What barriers are there and how will you overcome them?
- How important is this goal to you and are you doing it for yourself or because you feel you should?
- What would be different if you were to achieve the goal?
- How are you going to plan for relapse (because it is normal and will likely happen at some stage)?
Understanding what drives your current actions will help you work out what you need to do differently and why..
Add decision fatigue to the equation and maintaining your goal just got a whole lot harder! Decision fatigue is caused by "the large amount of decisions made, which leads to a mental exhaustion where a person has run out of energy to make the right/beneficial decision". Essentially the more choices you make each day the harder the decisions become. Losing weight is fraught with decisions - “shall I have my yogurt after lunch or wait until mid-afternoon when I may be hungry”, “one or two slices of bread for lunch?”, “large glass of wine or diet coke with friends? “, “will I blow my diet if I eat the leftover potatoes in the tray or have a couple of the chocolates in the office?”. The internal dialogue can be exhausting! Behaviour change require lots of mental energy (and emotion) and therefore we need to limit the decisions we make about our goal.
How can you succeed once and for all? Below are some top tips to help you succeed, finally tick that box and move on…
1) Set ONE single clear goal. Don’t echo the words of the masses with “I’m going to get into shape” – what does this actually mean? Lose a specific amount of weight, change your diet, buy new underwear or start running? If you are going to change a behaviour, be clear what THIS IS. Replace “I’m going to lose weight” with “I’m going to go for a walk at lunchtime twice a week”. Make it easier on yourself to achieve your goal by setting a smaller one that requires less effort and mental stress. Succeed with a small goal instead of failing a larger, drastic one.
2) Think positive
Instead of deciding to stop old, unhealthy behaviours (which can be difficult), focus on new positive behaviours. Stating you must stop eating out might feel unachieveable so replace it with “I’m going to only have puddings once a week when eating out”. Replace “I need to stop snacking every night” with “I am going to meet up with friends and go for a walk in the evenings”.
3) Plan for a hike instead of a walk
Plan for the long haul including the setbacks and how you will sustain motivation. If you accept relapse is normal you are more likely to be able to deal with it. Family events cause you to “fall off the wagon”? Then plan for how these events can be managed, what extra support you need etc.
I frequently hear (even my own words at times….) “I can’t find the time”. Nobody finds time, we CHOOSE time and how we want to spend it. Make your goal a priority and add it to your schedule. If you want to cook healthier meals then once a week sit down and plan your meals. Or schedule when you can go to the gym/for a walk. Commit 100% and you don’t need to make another decision about your goal.
4) Find a buddy
A problem shared is a problem halved… Not quite but it certainly helps when the motivation is slipping.
5) Reward yourself
Use your willpower to gain something rather than deny yourself e.g. each month buy something small just for you as a reward for your efforts and acheivements.
You are in control of your success. Aim small not big. Acknowledge the small changes, praise them and then set another goal. To reach the top you have to climb the stairs and each small step (goal) is one step closer. Good luck!