Learning and Education Consultant Insights Learning and Development
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New year, same you: why aren't you sticking to your new year's resolutions?

We start the year full of good intentions, but why do so few of us manage to keep those New Year's resolutions? Here's how to make this the year you effect lasting change. 

30th Dec 2019
Learning and Education Consultant Insights Learning and Development
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woman writing new year resolutions on a pin board
iStock/AJ_Watt

As another year comes to a close, many of us inevitably begin to reflect on the year gone by and set intentions for the year to come.

According to data from YouGov, one in five Brits made New Year's resolutions last year but sadly, only about a quarter of those people managed to keep their resolutions. It seems that the farther we get from January 1st, the farther we get from what we said we’d do and who we said we’d be.

So what is blocking the connection between the intentions we set in the New Year and the results we achieve? In this article, we'll explore the problems – and how you can do things differently this year. 

What's holding you back?

There are two main issues that prevent most people from achieving their resolutions. These are: 

1. Negativity

American cognitive scientist Art Mackman says, “one of the real difficulties with the resolutions people make is that they’re negative resolutions”. When we make resolutions that revolve around negative things like losing weight or stopping a 'bad habit', we are negating the person we are right now.

By focusing on what we are NOT, we are reinforcing our inner critic, eroding our self-esteem and inhibiting our belief that we can make positive change. Author Wayne Dyer says that instead of forcing change from a place of lacking, “change the way you look at things and the things you look at change”.

2. Unrealistic expectations

While it can be good to ‘shoot for the stars’, the trouble with having lofty ambitions is that there’s a long way from where you are now to where you want to be. If you haven’t given yourself incremental benchmarks, your morale could easily take a nose dive somewhere along the journey.

When you break your goals down into smaller, more achievable steps, you begin to build trust in yourself with each small win. In contrast, when your goals are too big and you slip up, it wears away your self-trust and self-esteem.

So, what can we do to head into 2020 with a mindset that supports the realisation of our goals?  

Awareness

To begin the process of improvement, you have to have a conscious awareness of who you are now. Without this, regardless of the development intentions you set, you won’t be able to know how you’re doing, let alone if you’ve achieved what you set out to do.

There are many ways to do this – exploring personal assessment tools and learning solutions can be a great first step to increasing your level of awareness.

Acceptance

After you have a base awareness of who you are, you are charged with the difficult step of accepting yourself. Most people skip this step, but accepting who you are is an essential step in making sustainable change because it builds your self-belief and self-esteem. Instead of working with the limiting belief that you are not good enough, when you accept yourself you operate from the belief that you are worthy and deserving.

The payoff for accepting yourself is that you are able to find the healthy balance between understanding your strengths and making conscious choices for developing your weaknesses. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said, “we cannot change anything until we accept it”.

Action

Like anything worth doing, achieving your goals takes work and dedication. Without action, even the most well-crafted intentions will go stagnant. There aren’t secrets to make this step easier, but we can set our action up for success when we keep it rooted in awareness and acceptance.

Similarly, we are empowered to change our circumstances when we take consistent action to do so.  As writer Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear:“it’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at”.

It’s time to throw away the fantasies about being a ‘new you’ in the New Year. Instead, connect your good intentions with positive results by setting resolutions based in awareness, acceptance and action. Ultimately, by enhancing your understanding of yourself, accepting what you can and can’t change and setting incremental action plans for development you can head into the New Year with your best foot forward.

Interested in this topic? Read Learning transfer: the difficulty with creating new habits.

Replies (1)

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Mike Ferguson
By MichaelJFerguson
08th Jan 2020 09:46

Thanks, Katie, and a very happy New Year everyone!

I've spent most of the last 30 years, as a Business Psychologist, supporting individuals and teams in their pursuit of lasting, meaningful, intentional change. The work started when a group of (then) academic colleagues and myself spent several years studying the thinking patterns and behaviours of around 140 exceptionally successful individuals. They hailed from all walks of life and were - mostly - household names.

They were brilliant at deciding how they, or their teams, needed to change - they made resolutions - and stuck to them.

We learned how they did that, and built a programme for teaching others - it is a skill set we can all learn. It still amazes us that it is not generally taught in schools (although through the ambassadorial efforts of some of my team we've made a start), and that most professionals we meet are still bogged down in old myths of performance 'change'.

Let me assure you that you can become, do or achieve whatever you want - as we demonstrate here on a daily basis!

Prof Mike Ferguson

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