I have been thinking a lot about New Year’s Resolutions lately – why they are so hard to keep and whether they are worth making.

To many people they are a bit of a joke, but deep down I think most of us want 2017 to be better in all kinds of ways than 2016.

In the words of the song “Let it begin with me.” New Year’s resolutions, when you get down to it, are about changing our habits. So why are habits so hard to change?

I decided to follow the process through start to finish and see what I came up with. My first thought was about willpower.

Willpower

These words filled me with dread. I have always believed that I was standing behind the door when willpower was given out, but in my research, I discovered some amazing facts about this mysterious attribute.

The area of the brain responsible for willpower is the prefrontal cortex, which lies right behind the forehead. This part of the brain, however, is also responsible for handling short-term memory, solving abstract problems and keeping us focussed. In other words, it has a lot on its plate. If it gets over stressed, then willpower tends to fade.

If you want the most out of your willpower, use it first thing in the morning before it gets side-lined by other, more pressing matters. The prefrontal cortex also needs plenty of energy to function properly so if you are dieting on a glass of water and a lettuce leaf your willpower hasn’t got a chance.

The List

As an inveterate list maker I started with a list of resolutions as things popped into my head. I then put them into groups that I prioritized. For example, “Be healthier” I put at the top of my list but it was too vague to be a resolution. Using it as a heading I listed weight loss, improved diet, more exercise, better sleep patterns etc.

Each of these would make perfect resolutions, but this was only the start of the process. My old New Year’s resolution strategy was beginning to remind me of decorating. I was putting big dobs of resolution paint on an already peeling wall of good intentions without adequate preparation.

Hardly had January started but these dobs were falling at my feet. Preparation makes for perfection so what preparation did I have to do?

Baby Steps

Patience is not my virtue but this time I realized that I must break down each resolution into tiny steps. “Make it so easy you can’t say no,” says Leo Babauta.

For example, with weight loss, start with a smaller plate to reduce portion size, then choose your dieting method. Do a food journal for a few days which will make you think twice about writing down two dollops of cream and a chocolate éclair! Make sure you have the right foods in the house so if you are a grazer like me there are nuts and carrots and not bars of chocolate lying around.

Links and Triggers

Every action has a trigger, so if you have a habit you want to start, find a trigger and link it to an existing habit. Every morning when you get up, I assume you put on a pair of shoes.

If you want to increase your exercise habit put on a pair of running shoes. Once they are on your feet you might as well run a short distance down the road and back or even up and down stairs. Gradually that distance increases.

If it is a habit you want to stop, identify the trigger and find something else to do when it kicks in. As I said, I am a grazer, and I discovered my trigger was walking into the kitchen or getting stressed. I realised I was only hungry when my eyes saw food, so I am looking the other way, or making sure I have airwaves to chew when the trigger kicks in! I am working on mindful breathing when I get stressed rather than grabbing the chocolate.

Rewards

How many of us reward ourselves? Start giving yourself credit for progress you have made; baby credits for baby steps, bigger rewards for more major shifts. Listening to my friends I found that, like me, they seldom rewarded themselves, so rewarding yourself is a great New Year’s Resolution!

I am going to award myself a massage if I make it to February on my healthy resolutions. The great thing is that setting my own rewards means that they are exactly what I would like best.

If you want to read more about this fascinating subject, try my new book, “Work It Out In a Week: Changing Habits”.  

I would love to hear from you if you make New Year’s resolutions. How do you set about keeping them? Do you think that they are valuable or a waste of time? How has a New Year’s resolution changed your life in the past? Please join the conversation.

Let's Have a Conversation!