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How to make and stick to your resolutions

How to make and stick to your resolutions

If you're like 80 per cent of Britons, you'll have broken your New Year’s resolutions by the second week of February. Which puts you about two weeks past our best ever effort. So why do we wake up with a Hogmanay hangover, with our willpower at its lowest ebb, and decide to make a change?

Well, tradition, for one. Humans have been making New Year's resolutions since Caesar was in power. But also because, though the start of a year isn't the most practical time to turn over new leaves, it is the most symbolic. Under the ‘start as you mean to go on’ school of thought, if you can stick to dry January then you’ll gain a level of self-control and virtue that will carry you through the next eleven months.

It’s a compelling argument – provided you stay the course. Because as anyone who has given up a New Year’s resolution at week two knows, that feeling of failure isn’t a great way to kick off the next eleven-and-a-half months. So, this year, don't fail. With our expert help, 2019 could be the year that you don't just make it the end of February with your resolutions intact, but the end of the year.

Be specific

The most popular New Year's resolution, by far, is to 'eat better'. It's also the most failed. “Take that big goal and break it right down,” says Keith McNiven, personal trainer and founder from Right Path Fitness. If you vow to 'eat better', 'lose weight' or 'spend less money' then you're setting yourself what McNiven calls, "lifestyle statements", not resolutions. And like a mammoth, they're big, woolly and impossible to overcome on your own.

“It’s fine to say that you want to drop the pounds or up your fitness level, but think of this as you visualising where you want to be in the future," says McNiven. In other words, be specific. "Something like: 'Go swimming once a week in January’." Come the end of the week one, you'll know if you're on track or need to work harder.

Make small changes

Whether your goal is to read more, learn an instrument or build up a savings account, little changes stack up to a big impact. Think about how you can incorporate your resolution into your current daily routines. You’ll find this is a lot more achievable than doing a drastic life overhaul.

“Research now suggests that being inactive can be as bad for us as smoking or being obese," says McNiven, "so if your job is primarily desk-based, it could be something as simple as taking a lunchtime walk and getting up and moving every two hours.” Little and often adds up to a lot over a couple of months.

Variety, variety, variety

Boredom is the biggest killer of that New Year momentum. "If you run on the treadmill for 20 minutes then do the same weights routine, you’ll quickly get to the point where you’ll see not training as a reward,” says McNiven. “Switch your mindset and reward yourself with variety, like a HIIT class or circuit training. Not only will you keep your mind engaged, your body will stay engaged too and challenged.”

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to physical goals. Want to eat healthier? Then switch up your recipes so you’re not making the same grilled chicken breast and couscous five nights in a row. If you're trying to learn a new skill, download a relevant podcast and intersperse that with your reading or practice.

Set yourself up for success

And finally, for something a little different. Psychotherapist Nick Davies suggests ‘anchoring’, a technique used in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) which couples a physical stimulus to a particularly bouyant emotion.

  1. Pick three times in the past where you felt really motivated and write down what you saw, heard and felt. 
  1. Sit back in a comfortable chair and imagine you are in your very own state of the art cinema.
  1. Imagine watching yourself on the three occasions you wrote down as a continual loop following each other.
  1. Make the pictures bigger and brighter, make the sounds richer and clearer and imagine stepping into yourself on that screen.
  1. See through your eyes, hear through your ears and really feel how motivated you feel and clench one or both of your fists to associate with those amazing feelings. “Most people press a thumb and a forefinger together but I find this stimulus can be a little weak, especially if you’re tired and need a boost, so a clenched fist may be better,” says Davies.
  1. The next time you need to access this motivated state to help you with your goals, stand tall, take a breath and make a tight fist. Those feelings of power and success will come flooding back.

Words: Theresa Harold
Illustration: Ryan Gillett