Only 8 percent of the resolutions that we make in the optimistic flush of a new year’s dawning are actually achieved. You might be groaning in recognition – having failed more than once to get to the gym in January, blaming ‘work pressures’ or ‘family commitments’, whilst really knowing that it has more to do with willpower. The trouble with willpower is that it’s a finite resource – and there’s usually none of it left by the end of a busy day – so the resolve you had in the morning to go to the gym evaporates with the hours of stress endured throughout the day. Ironically, pounding out the miles on a treadmill is exactly what you need to build your resilience and creativity to better equip you for those same challenges tomorrow.
Here’s a tip for sticking with those resolutions until they become part of the ‘new you’. I’m guessing that the resolutions you made were focused on what you would start ‘doing’ and might even have been framed in negative language. They’re also likely to have been based on what you feel you ‘need’ to do (like lose weight, get fitter, eat better) rather than focussed on what you are really passionate about. Let’s take the example of losing weight; I imagine you put on the weight because of habits you currently have—eating chocolate after dinner or having a biscuit with your coffee. You like doing those things—you want to do them. Replacing an existing ‘want’ habit (repeatedly doing things you like to do) with a ‘need’ habit (I’d better get myself to the gym three times a week) is not going to cut it. ‘Need’ will not trump ‘want’ without a huge dose of willpower – and it often seems to have run out just when we need it most. Even if you lift the new habit to the ‘want’ level—you want to lose fifteen pounds so that you can look your best when you attend the family wedding (and give ‘one in the eye’ to Aunt Sylvia) in the summer. That will give your current habit a run for its money, but you’re still going to use up a lot of willpower to maintain the new action long enough to ritualize it.
However, if you are able to link the new habit to what really lights you up inside, and frame it as a positive way of thinking, then you reduce the amount of willpower you are going to need to maintain it to a point where it becomes ritualised (normally between 4 and 6 weeks, depending on the activity). If your desire is to be a great father or mother, for example, then losing that extra weight will enable you to more easily chase your children around the garden or play football in the park with them. Your new habit could be framed as “I’m a fit and healthy mum,” accompanied by an inspiring mental image of what losing that weight will allow you to do more easily. If you want to cut down you alcohol consumption then seeing it as a way of being the best of which you are capable in later life – healthier and more active as a result of that choice, might be the inspiring image that reduces the amount of willpower you need to stop yourself reaching for that bottle of wine, in favour of sticking the kettle on.
Being clear about what really matters to us in life and who we believe we are capable of being is the inspirational hook upon which we can hang those apparently innocuous habits that, bit by bit, will transform our lives and enable us to become the best of which we are capable. Our desires will turbocharge our willpower so that, in no time, the new thought and action become effortlessly ritualized and part of who we are. So here’s my call to action – how can you frame your resolution so that you see it as a way of achieving one of your key desires? Key desires are intrinsic motivators and that means that they are normally focussed on making a contribution or serving others, often by enabling you to be the best of which you are capable. The five minutes you take now to make that connection could be the difference between understanding what makes you tick so that sticking to your resolutions year after year becomes almost effortless.