As empty champagne glasses and golden flakes of confetti make their way to the landfill, 2018 has officially started. And with the excitement that new beginnings bring, millions have started to conceptually work on their new year resolutions.
In fact, I wrote mine last night and on my list are the usual suspects: get fit again, call my parents more often, move up the ladder at work. But although I’m hopeful that this time, this time for sure I’ll get them done, I can’t help but notice that for the past years my resolutions have kind of been the same–and although I did reach certain goals (specially professionally), I also know that occasionally I settled for lesser versions of them (I kinda workout but no six-pack in sight).
As you can imagine, I’m not alone in this. When it comes to resolutions most people suffer from what scientists call “false hope syndrome“, which occurs when one has unrealistic expectations of self-change.
“People appear to behave paradoxically, by persisting in repeated self-change attempts despite previous failures,” reads a study. Although scientists argue that self-change efforts provide some initial rewards even when unsuccessful (aka any effort is better than no effort), your inability to get that six-pack or learn a language comes from ” unrealistic expectations concerning the ease, speed, likely degree of change.”
How the False Hope Syndrome Works
By now you’re probably familiar with this cycle: you pick a way too large and way too vague resolution like, say, get fit. So you go to the gym for a month or two making small progress but, upon noticing that you haven’t arrived at your unrealistic desired goal, you abandon all efforts. And when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st you remember how good it felt to make a little progress at the beginning of the year so you tell yourself that this time, for sure, you will get fit. Now you’re trapped in the Groundhog Day of new year resolutions powered by false hope syndrome. But you can beat it ….
The Key to Successfully Sticking to Your Resolutions
First of all, you need a specific plan to be successful. Picture your goals as a sort of destination at the end of a long road trip–could you make it there without a map? I’m guessing you’d get lost without planning the trip. Well, the same applies to sticking to your resolutions.
You need to forget about willpower or motivation and plan out every step of the way while also making sure you adjust your environment to support your resolution. If you want to get fit–an example I’ll keep using because it’s the most common resolution–you need to start by removing all the bad food from your house and replacing it with good stuff. You also need to track your progress with defined parameters (caloric intake and weekly weight) in a notebook or even a spreadsheet. Schedule workouts like you schedule work meetings: you don’t think before going to a meeting, ‘Do I feel like going?’, no, you just go. It’s the same with the gym.
Secondly, make your goal public by finding outside support. Believe it or not, we’re more likely to cheat or lie to ourselves than to others so by making your specific resolutions public to your friends and family, not only will they push you in the right direction, they will also make you think twice before you eat that brownie. If your goal is to lose weight, find a gym buddy and push each other to go to the gym, or start an office weight loss challenge to add an element of competitiveness to your goals.
Lastly, you need to use setbacks as motivation. Remember what we covered above about having unrealistic expectations about resolutions? Well, a more realistic approach is to understand that, naturally, slip-ups will happen and to use them to your advantage. Slip-ups mean that you’re trying and if you’re trying that means that every day you’re getting a little better at your resolution.
“If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards.” – Paul Bryant
Another aspect to remember about self-change is that what counts is what you do most days so an every-once-in-a-while slip up doesn’t mean much in the greater scheme of things. If you eat a balanced and healthy diet 6 days a week and have a bad meal once a week, you will still get results so don’t throw it all away for one bad day. If your resolution is to get a better job, don’t forget that every “no” is really a “no yet” in disguise, you just gotta keep going.
Listen, all catchy, Rocky Balboa phrases aside, you gotta remember that big changes, the ones we usually pick as resolutions, are slowly built. Just as you didn’t really notice that you were getting a gut, it’ll also be hard to notice when you start losing it, that’s why keeping track of every small change is so important. The important thing to remember, no matter the progress, is to never stop. Keep at it, whatever your goal, as long as keep it at it, you will see results.