How can I stick to my New Year’s resolutions?
This blog has been co-created by expert psychologist, Dr Sukie Bilkhu, and Medstars’ Tom O’Brien.
As with the start of every year, we all hope that the next twelve months will be even better than the last. These hopes often crystallise in the form of New Year’s resolutions which are designed to bring the changes we want into effect. However, a challenge that many of us experience is keeping these resolutions throughout the entire year and beyond (many a New Year’s resolution doesn’t survive past February). Luckily, we’ve spoken with Medstars’ psychologist, Dr Sukbinder Bilkhu (or Sukie as she prefers to be known), to learn how to make resolutions you can stick to and use as a driver of genuine change in your life.
Sukie says, “It’s okay knowing what you want to focus on for your resolution but not many people know the why or the intention behind the resolution.” Why is it that you want to read more? Exercise more? Quit smoking? Eat more healthily?
A good piece of advice is applying the commonly used ‘SMART’ goals acronym to keep your resolutions: This means being:
When planning what your resolutions should be, you need to imagine where you want to be in several years’ time. Then you need to think about what you can do right now to get yourself closer to that goal. Being vague when setting resolutions risks finishing the year disappointed. So, rather than saying ‘I want to go to the gym more’ or ‘I’ll read more’ specify how often you’ll aim to go to the gym or how many books you’ll read so you’ll have more of an incentive.
If you can break your resolutions down into monthly, weekly or even daily goals, you will feel as though you’re moving forward all the time. If you are giving up smoking for example, you might want to reduce your cigarette consumption from 20 a day to 15 a day in January, reducing to 10 in February. That way you are not faced with the trauma of suddenly going cold turkey and you will improve your health with each and every cigarette you don’t smoke. The targets you set are completely up to you. What’s important is that your progress is measurable, so that you can demonstrate to yourself that day by day, month by month you’re pushing yourself closer to achieving your goals.
Persistence is key to keeping a resolution successfully. However, you should still be kind to yourself. If things don’t work out the first time, just reflect and make the changes you need to get back on track. Attempting to improve your life is a great thing in itself so if those changes take a while to set in motion, don’t beat yourself up.
Sukie says,“allow room for mistakes or ‘blips’ as these will happen. If you allow yourself space for making mistakes you’re more likely to continue with your change/s rather than give up straight away. Knowing that everything in life is temporary and learning to accept this, can help us to realise that our worst experiences and emotions won’t last. Each moment in our lives changes and doesn’t last forever, there is some beauty (and challenge) in that, when we are going through either our most difficult and challenging times or our happiest.”
Make sure that your resolutions fit in with your schedule. If you don’t finish work until 18.30 on Thursday’s, there’s no point in signing up to a boxing class that starts at 17.45!
The calendar is far less important than people often make out when you’re setting a resolution. Start in your own time and finish in your own time. Your resolutions don’t necessarily have to last for a year. Speaking on the timing usually given to resolutions, Sukie said: “I think society somehow buys into this mindset of life being dictated by a calendar, which has its advantages and disadvantages, and generally there’s this sentiment that it’s the beginning of the year, or a birth of something new kind of sentiment or attitude around, so this is maybe the best time to start to make changes, when realistically we can do this at any time.”
Sukie doesn’t let the calendar dictate her own life. She continues, “I try not to live my life dictated by the calendar, but when I know I need to make a change in my life, I think about why this change is needed and for whom and how to go about starting to make that change. I do not set a limit of when I can achieve this change as I believe that puts extra pressure on us, but as a guide, if I know my resolution is going in the direction it needs to go and feels okay for me, I know I’m on the right track.”
If you’re looking for some more guidance when it comes to setting New Year’s resolutions, Sukie has suggested a great TED Talk from Simon Sinek explaining how your own action, motivation and self-belief can power you to a more successful future: https://bit.ly/1a1B6s6
Follow these steps not just to keep your resolutions, but to live your life in a way that makes it have greater meaning and purpose.