3 Rules to make your New Year’s Resolutions stick

“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” Robin Sharma

The start of a brand new year has many of us resolving to change some aspect of ourselves or our lives. It’s the perfect day to re-prioritize our lives for the months ahead: to get more healthy and fit, to progress in our careers, to spend more time with family and friends, to be kinder and donate more to charity etc. So many admirable resolutions….

Too bad they don’t last.

As we tick off the weeks and months on a calendar, we usually find ourselves saying goodbye to our New Year’s Resolutions as well. About 80% of people give up on their “New Year, New Me” goals by the end of January.

New Year's Resolutions - failure, funny meme

A matter of life and death

Now, just take a moment to think about you being on your death-bed. (This may seem like a plot twist, but go with it.) There’s nothing more we like to do than not think about death, but we’d be much better off as a species if we confronted it head on.

So go ahead and visualize this likely future possibility: You’ve lived as long you could manage, and you’re now lying in a hospital bed with your senses dulled by morphine. You’re too sick and too tired to continue the fight. As you look back into your past, you have a whole host of regrets at the things that held you back from living fully when you could: your fears at what others would think of you, your laziness, and your false assurance that you had a lot of time left.

You realize while dying that you never lived as the person you wanted to be. You were a caterpillar that never became a butterfly.

If this thought sets off any existential dread in you, it’s a good thing. That’s a sign of your higher mind being aware that things need to change. Unfortunately, your more basic lizard brain is rebelling. We can’t let the lizard win – he promises us a good time in the present if we follow him, but he will ultimately take us to a dark and terrible place.

So, it’s high time that we unknow our lack of commitment to change in general and New Year’s Resolutions in particular. By the time December rolls around again, please have accomplished at least one new thing that makes you proud whenever you think about it. Here are three guidelines to follow when making your resolutions:

1.Start small

Too often we think that we should make a bunch of different changes to our life all at once. Aiming for a complete overhaul is a rookie mistake. Just focus on one small and specific change in the beginning, and devote your full attention to it.

For example, if your goal is to lose weight, don’t sign up for 3 different exercises classes and cut your calories simultaneously. Start with committing to keeping a food journal for a month, so you gain a better understanding of your diet and the empty calories you’re mindlessly inhaling (happens to all of us).

For more information on how to develop good habits, or changing bad ones, I’d suggest reading The Power of Habit. It will teach you the science behind behavioural change and make any goals ( whether they are New Year’s Resolutions or not) seem easier to handle.

2.Resolutions should be personally meaningful

Another major reason we fail at our New Year’s resolutions and goals is that we were motivated for the wrong reasons. You should follow your resolutions because they are intrinsically meaningful to you. You shouldn’t follow them to please other people or out of social pressure. Inner satisfaction beats external rewards every single time.

For example, if you want to stop procrastinating just because someone is nagging you to change, you will not be successful. Trust me, I’ve been there. Do it because you’ve realized that you are in the process of losing control of yourself, your time and your life.

3.No pain, no gain

Change and growth involve some initial discomfort, so don’t expect it to be smooth-sailing. The first time we try something new (especially a new skill) we will almost always suck at it. This is just down to how our brains work; our neural pathways are based on our current habits and behaviours.

The great part of being human though is that we can re-wire our brains to what we want them to be. The more you engage in a new activity, the more you train your brain to create a new pathway. The pathway gets stronger with each repetition until it finally becomes our new normal – a habit. This is how once complex activities like writing and driving eventually become second-nature to us.

It’s important to know beforehand that your progress at your resolutions will not be linear. You’ll have good days followed by bad ones; there will be days when you will forget or fail completely. Forgive yourself when you do. The outcome of any particular day is not what matters – it’s that you keep coming back anyway. Remember that January 1 is an arbitrary date on a calendar; you can re-set your calendar and have a fresh start any day you want.

Happy New Year! May this be a year of positive change and personal growth, because you chose to make it so.