It’s that time of year. Whether it’s the spirit of the holidays or spending time with family and friends, the holidays inevitably makes us all reflect on how we are living our lives.
We evaluate what we like or dislike about ourselves, judge the good or bad habits we picked up over the past year, and make promises to ourselves that this year we are going to make the changes we have been telling ourselves we will make for the past few years.
This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.
In fact, we are able to grow and change as a person when we incorporate regular self-reflection and evaluation in our lives. To strive to be a more caring person, spend more time doing things that bring you joy, and be more patient with those you love are all wonderful commitments to strive towards, among many others.
However, as a nutritionist I truly dislike like New Year’s resolutions.
Because New Years resolutions end up being big, lofty goals that are unattainable for most and inevitably lead to perceptions of failure. This then morphs into feelings of shame, regret, and self-flagellation that we can’t be the kind of person we want to be or do the kinds of things we want to do. This is particularly relevant to nutrition since the #1 New Year’s resolution people in America make is losing weight.
But only 8% of people are successful in accomplishing their resolution.
If you happen to be a new or expecting parent, your chances of success are even smaller based on your environment, state-of-mind, and new responsibilities. There is only so much willpower we have every day and the more you use it, the more you fatigue it.
Researchers refer to this concept as decision fatigue. It is why powerful individuals have been known to wear the same five outfits every week or eating the same thing for breakfast every day, so they don’t use up their decision power first thing in the morning on mundane tasks of life.
Even though you may have a deep motivation to achieve your goal, all the demands and decisions you make as a parent drains your daily willpower so you don’t have any left to make decisions for yourself, such as, “It’s 2pm and I haven’t eaten all day—do I eat an apple or these yummy cookies sitting here?” or “I’m exhausted, it’s been one of those extra long days—do I numb out and watch TV or try to have a meaningful conversation with my partner?” The odds are especially stacked up again you, parents, and you have to be twice as smart to achieve your goals.
Tools to even the odds when it comes to New Year’s resolutions
There are lots of tools, books, articles, and research on the market that can help individuals meet their goals. Here are few of my favorite:
- Passion Planner- a planner that helps people clearly define their personal goals and dreams and put them at the forefront of their attention.
- Self Control and Strick Workflow- productivity apps that blocks sites for a period of time such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, et cetera.
- Stickk- holds you accountable to your goals by having either a referee and/or financial stake in achieving your goal.
- The Power of Habit- a book on how to transform your habits to achieve your goals
However, even with the best nutritionist or planner or app on your side, it’s still easy to fail in meeting your goals.
Why does this happen? Because we don't set ourselves up for success from the start.
10 tips to unlock the secrets of becoming part of the elite 8% this year
1. Make your goal small and concrete.
New Year’s resolutions are typically big and vague goals, such as:
- I’m going to lose that baby weight this year
- I’m going to be more compassionate towards myself
- I’m going to be more supportive of my partner
These kind are goals set you up to fail because of two reasons:
- There is no way to put an action plan into place with a vague goal. Almost 40% of the actions you take every day are automatic habits. This has to due with the decision fatigue that I already described. If you don't have the automatic habits in place of choosing the apple, it will not spontaneously happen.
- A big goal doesn’t allow you to feel like a winner until the entire goal is completed. Let’s take the weight goal as an example:
Your goal is to lose that baby weight. Too vague. Okay, your goal is to lose 15 pounds this year. Better, that’s more specific. But, with this as your goal, you don’t succeed until all 15 pounds are lost… which might take you six months. If you have a goal of losing one pound every 10 days, then every 10 days you get to celebrate a win of meeting your goal for those 10 days!
Break down the goal into small wins that allow you to experience success more often and your chances of continuing to strive for the goal increases.
2. Create ritual-based goals, not a result-based goals.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Whether you resonate with this quote or not, I implore you to make your New Year’s resolution focused on the journey, not the destination.
Because most New Year’s resolutions are created to make us happier with our lives. When you are so focused on a goal of losing weight or being more organized, you lose sight of enjoying the beauty of the journey.
Want to eat healthier? Make Sunday evenings into a ritual of packing lunches for the week with your child.
Want to be more organized? Start every day spending 10 minutes tidying up your desk to encourage a clear mind for that day.
Enjoying the process, instead of focusing on the goal, allows you to be happier every day, as well as creates a better chance of continuing the ritual daily.
3. Commit to doing your goal daily.
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle
Research shows that it takes 21 days to change a habit. It’s why you see so many 21 day diets bombarding consumers nowadays.
Weaving your goal into your daily life allows it to become a habit. It becomes automatic, and you stop thinking about it—like driving or eating is for so many of us. Once a goal becomes a daily habit, it’s apart of you and a goal no longer.
4. Commit to 30 days.
I choose this number for two reasons:
- The 21-day habit building research stated above
- This period of time makes your goal feel more like an experiment. We’re more apt to try something if it is an experiment, rather than something we have to do until the end of time.
Choose to pass on dessert or meditate for 5 minutes in the morning, but only for 30 days. It doesn’t feel so much like you’re depriving yourself, does it? You’ll begin to think, “This might actually be manageable. I might as well see it through, right?”
5. Choose only one goal at a time.
Choose one goal to make into a habit, allow it to become an automatic part of your day, then when you feel confident that habit is part of your daily existence, choose a new goal to make into a habit.
Committing to several goals scatters your willpower, while depleting those goals’ chances to become habits and thus realities.
6. Create a habit around your goal that starts first thing in the morning.
Deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal can double or triple your chances for success. —Heidi Grant Halvorson, Professor at Columbia University
Your habit need to have specifics to ensure it will happen during the day. Since we start our days with 100% of willpower, I suggest utilizing this power to make your goal into your daily habit.
What does this look like?
- To become a more patient individual: meditate for five minutes every morningbefore you do anything else.
- To spend more time with family: look at your schedule every morning and see where there is time to grab lunch with your partner or call your parent.
- To be a more healthy person: review or plan your meals the day before so when you get hungry, it’s already done.
This also helps you avoid excuses that can come up and prevent you from achieving your goals.
7. Write down the benefits and the pain behind your goal.
To succeed in those first 21 days of creating a new habit, it is critical to become crystal clear on why you’re striving for this goal in the first place. You can start by asking yourself the following sample questions:
- How does not having this goal create a negative influence my life?
- How does it affect my relationships, my work, my parenting, et cetera?
- What are the long-term consequences of not meeting my goal?
- How will I feel when I achieve this goal?
- What will be different in my life?
- How is achieving this goal going to make me a better or happier person?
- How is achieving this goal going to positively affect those around me that I love and care about?
Dig really deep here and get to the root of the why you want this goal and how it will benefit you when you achieve it. I would encourage you to write these benefits and pain points down on a piece of paper and stick it wherever you need a reminder of it (on the fridge, on your computer, on your bathroom mirror).
8. Create an environment for success.
Chances are you have tried to achieve this goal before. What has kept you from being successful in the past?
Was it was too big of a goal? Maybe you felt you didn’t have the willpower to makes the necessary changes? Or maybe your environment set you up for failure from the beginning.
For example, chances are not in your favor for being healthier this year if:
- There are cookies in your cupboard
- You’re surrounded by constantly stressed and negative co-workers
- The nearest gym is over an hour away
Know the challenges in the way of your goal and figure out how you can transform those obstacles into advantages.
Maybe you can donate the junk food in your pantry to a homeless shelter, listen to peaceful music and avoid the lunchroom while you are at work, and get a exercise video to do home workouts. Ensure your environment doesn’t negatively determine your outcome.
9. Evaluate every few days .
The faster you fail, the quicker you will succeed. – Unknown
Too often, we go weeks without getting to the gym and then resolve that we have already failed at our goal, so why try anymore, right?
When we were in grade school, how did we know we were doing well? Our teachers periodically evaluated our performance and gave us critical feedback.
Your personal goals work the same way. It is not a failure that you ate those cookies at the Christmas party, but an opportunity to learn.
I like to evaluate my habit-based goals every three days. I create a two minute check-in before I start my work day where I ask myself, “How did my plan go? What worked and what got in the way?”
Every time we find a new reason or excuse that blocks us from achieving our goals, we should view it as a teacher of what we can do better next time.
Perhaps you went to the Christmas party hungry, or you felt lonely since your partner had to work late and you had to go alone, or maybe you told yourself it was okay to eat them because of the holidays.
If you can figure out the root cause behind why something didn’t go as planned, you have a much better chance of succeeding the next time.
10. Be imperfect.
This is possibly the most important of all these tips.
No one is perfect and we set ourselves up for failure from the start when we try to be. The key is self-forgiveness and reminding ourselves we are only human, then getting back on the horse again. Don’t let a single slip up completely derail your efforts.
If your New Year’s resolution is something that you truly believe is going to make you a better, happier person, then you owe it to yourself not to give up.
As a parent, child, partner, co-worker, or friend, commit this year to a resolution that gives to yourself and those around you. Make yourself a happier person and in turn, you make those around you happier. Be infectious with your resolution(s) and compassionate with yourself during the moments where your willpower is exhausted.
I hope these tips help you to create and keep a resolution that brightens and betters your corner of the world.
What have you done to successfully achieve your resolutions in the past? What goals are you striving for this upcoming year? Comment below or share with someone you know to keep yourself accountable in 2016!