Have you stuck to your resolutions until now? Often once we begin a new habit, we realise that it’s more difficult than we expected to stick to it. This post will help you to modify a resolution to change if you’re finding your new habit unsustainable.
How to keep a New Year’s Resolution Part III
Make it quicker
Finding that now you’re back at work, you just don’t seem to have time to fit in your new habit? Find a way to get started on what you’ve been putting off for just two minutes. You don’t need to be able to complete the task in two minutes, just start. Spend two minutes doing push ups, open a word document and write out the title of your essay, google a potential client. Once you’ve found a way to start, you’ll find that keeping going is much easier. Even if you have to stop after two minutes, you’re two minutes closer to your new behaviour than before. Surely you can put in effort for just two minutes?
Make it easier
Make your resolution to change achievable by focusing on the habit first, rather than the results. So if your goal is to get fitter, start by just turning up at the gym every day, without worrying about exercising for a whole hour. Eat a healthy breakfast each morning, without worrying about the other meals or if you’re losing any weight yet. Send a few messages to a potential love interest, even if you don’t actually talk to them or plan to meet up. Get yourself used to the idea of change by moving slowly. If this is going to be a long term change, you have plenty of time to improve later. You can’t start too small – the danger is in starting too big and then not being able to keep it up.
Choose a new environment
The same old places encourage the same old behaviour. To start a new way of being, it can help to start off in a brand new place. Try visiting a local coffee shop and buying a fruit salad every day before you encounter the vending machine at work. Stop at a gym on the way home from work before you have a chance to sit down on your couch. Friends count as environment too – so increase your contact with people who are already achieving what you want, and pull back from those that keep insisting you meet up at the pub.
Change your old environment
Sometimes we can’t easily choose a new environment. In this case, re-arrange your current one. Put your art supplies on the coffee table and hide the iPad in a drawer. Put the apples on the bench-top and the butter at the back of the fridge behind all the condiment jars. Move your alarm so you have to get out of bed anyway to turn it off. Make it easier to do the new habit than it is to access the old.
Just who do you think you are?
Who you think you are, and who others expect you to be, has great power to destroy any goal you set that doesn’t conform to that identity. If you have repeatedly tried to start/ stop something and can’t work out why you can’t maintain the change, it could be because your desired goal conflicts with who you think you are.
For example, if you think people who don’t drink are boring and binge drinking sessions hold your fondest memories with friends, then cutting down on drinking is going to be very difficult, no matter what your doctor said about your liver. Not only will you be trying to change a habit, you’re also turning yourself into someone you don’t like – you’ll fear becoming bored, boring and socially isolated and these fears will override good intentions and detailed plans.
Habit changes which conflict with your current sense of identity but which are important to you for other reasons (usually for health reasons or to improve a relationship) require you to develop your sense of self before you strive for them. In the above example, the person needs to become okay with being a sober person. They would need to set goals such as discovering interesting sober people and looking at times that drinking has cost them friendships rather than developed them. They might also need to develop their social/ emotional skills so they can express themselves, whilst sober, in a way that is similar to how they do when drinking alcohol (e.g. improving their confidence, spontaneity, creativity, or the ability to self-disclose). This kind of work can be complicated but it is often necessary to make changes to habits which have been with us for most of our lifetime and which form part of who we think we are. Enlisting a professional, such as myself, will help you to look at your situation objectively and set the right goals to encourage behaviour change.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.