How many of us stick to our resolutions?
A New Year means new resolves. Three life coaches let us in on the secret of staying on the bandwagon
It is 2020 and the phrase 'new year, new you' is probably all over your social media feed. again. Though the phrase is likely to get an eye-roll, you have to admit: it also sparks a wee bit of hope in that, perhaps, this year really will be different. After all, as humans, we have this inherent obsession to do better and be better. Which is why we set resolutions for the coming year.
Just short of transforming into a completely new person, resolutions often range the gamut: from dropping a few kilos to picking up a new hobby and broadening intellectual horizons. Yet, come February, many of us tend to abandon these goals. For this very reason, naysayers around the world find it easier to give up the tradition instead. But perhaps, the problem does not lie in making resolutions, but in how we keep them.
Personally, I often start a new year with a list of five to seven resolutions, from starting an online course to getting rid of my muffin top and working on being more mindful and spiritual. The lengthy list is taped to the vision board I made five years ago and, for the first two weeks, things are great. I sign up for the course, start going to yoga class and fit meditation into my daily routine. But just like that, laziness takes over. Sound familiar?
To ensure this year really is different, we spoke to three life coaches, who imparted some timely advice. From setting the right goals to keeping them, they provide an insight into why we abandon our resolutions so quickly and how to get back on the bandwagon once we fall off.
Plan for growth
"Your resolution should be heartfelt and forward-looking for continual growth," says Sarah Babiker. As co-founder of Soul Space, a wellness company based in Dubai, Sarah focuses on positive psychology for the mind. "If you are brave enough to do some very honest self-reflection, it will be obvious where you want to be and what you need to do."
Babiker often introduces the SPIER model to her clients who are confused about what goals to set. The model is a tracker of life's domains - spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional and relational. On a scale of one to ten, she recommends measuring each domain to identify any imbalance. "The goal is to balance it all because a happy life is a balanced life," says the 33-year-old from Sudan, adding that the two crucial stages of setting a resolution are to identify a goal and plan how to get there.
"Plan where you want to be in the next three months and then, break it down some more. The more specific the step is, the more likely you are to do it and achieve it." Babiker recommends writing it all down too. "If 2020 is the year you are going to get fit, write down what it looks like. Where are you going to work out? What will you be doing exactly? How many times a week will you go? If it's on your calendar, you can't escape it." By working in increments, Babiker explains that your comfort zone slowly expands. Soon enough, your new habit will be a part of your lifestyle. "It's about asking yourself, what's the easiest thing I can do this week to get one step further?"
As a positive psychologist, she stresses on swapping out a 'fixed' mindset for a 'growth' mindset. By looking at failure as an opportunity to keep improving yourself, you can keep moving forward, despite setbacks. "It's about understanding what is in your control. We're often stuck in an end-of-history illusion," which is the belief that you are as accomplished as you will ever be and that there is no going further from here. "Recognise what is in your hands," she says. "You have the tools, the strength and the resources to keep going and do better. If you look back at where you were 10 years ago and see the incredible amount of change, what makes you think that you're going to be the same person in the next 10? It defies logic."
From left to right: Sarah Babiker, Lisa Laws, and Maria Tansey
Change is great for as long as we keep evolving and improving but, sometimes, that is a lot harder to do on your own. This is where accountability comes in. Lisa Laws, a hypnotherapist and counsellor, says, "We tend to be more successful when we do things together. On my own, I'll press the snooze button," she chuckles before continuing. "But I'll turn up when I've made a commitment to someone. When we do things on our own, we burn out very quickly. So, let people know what your intentions are and see if any of your friends are on board with them. If they're not, would they at least hold you accountable as you keep them updated along the months?"
Lisa notes that relying on a friend or family member too much can also be dangerous if they are not as invested in your journey. In which case, the 51-year-old counsellor says it is important to move on to someone else. "Be really committed to why you're setting a resolution. You are ultimately responsible. Don't blame other people for not attaining your goals."
The conversation on our resolutions is often followed by a disappointing sigh in announcing that we have failed. Within the second week or perhaps the second month of a year, most of us give up on our goals and Laws says it is important to understand exactly why failure occurs. Through this recognition, you can avoid making the same mistakes.
"Often, we abandon our goals because the effort involved in achieving them seems too much. And we lose sight of what we're going to get out of it. It is hard work and the brain constantly wants an easy way out. But we should be in charge of our minds, not the other way around. And so, when you motivate yourself to pick up an old resolution you abandoned last year, treat it as a new goal and celebrate each milestone. Remind yourself about why you want to achieve it in the first place and visualise it," says Laws, who recounts how she used to envision fitting into a UK size 10 at Massimo Dutti, for a minute every day. Today, she is a UK size 8.
Give yourself a break
In an ideal world, all it would take to tick off your year-end resolutions is willingness and effort. Unfortunately, there are external factors that get in the way, too, especially when you are determined to rid yourself of an 'unwanted' habit. As a clinical hypnotherapist and MLP life coach, Maria Tansey believes life can get in the way. She explains: "If your goal is to stop drinking or smoking, you need to address the stress that is causing this behaviour. Find the root cause, because your body will be working against you if your mind says it needs a cigarette or that you need to binge eat for comfort. For many, it's the way our minds have learnt to cope."
The 44-year-old from Manchester recommends getting to know yourself, how you cope with unwanted stress, and how you can inspire yourself to deal with what is holding you back. "Sometimes, a relapse is part of a successful recovery. Don't be disheartened if you are trying to quit or change a habit and you haven't been successful. Look at the reasons and learn from that. Just know that you are going to do it again and, next time, you'll learn something new." Tansey shares that some people relapse four to five times before attaining their resolutions.
In an age of self-love and acceptance, Instagram will have you chanting affirmations. It is a trend that will likely see you through 2020 as well. The goal-setting process comes with setbacks. One ought to plan for these because, as Tansey says, "Even the coaches don't get it right sometimes."
January 1 can come with immense amounts of pressure and with so many people setting resolutions and vowing to keep them, it becomes a competition. That can be toxic. "We're happy to tell other people that it's okay to set aside their resolutions, but we think of ourselves as a different species," says Tansey. "With someone else, we allow their excuses but not for ourselves. Give yourself a break."
Tansey herself subscribes to taking the first three weeks of the year off, as she waits for the hype to die down. "If you haven't planned out your resolution yet, don't feel the pressure to do it quickly. You can be just as successful if you take the next two to three weeks and start at the end of January."
Even when you set your goals and intentions and things haven't quite gone according to plan, Tansey points out, "You wouldn't slash the other three tyres of your car just because one of them blew out. It's about taking these setbacks in your stride as you keep going."
My relationship with my nine-year-old daughter Mihika has always been rocky, but it was becoming worse. Underneath all the anger and resentment though, I could sense deep unhappiness and pain equal to mine. In 2019, I resolved to fix our relationship. It required patience, consistent effort, putting parts of my life on hold, and plenty of phone calls to my mum who allowed me to vent. It wasn't easy; sometimes I would leave the room when I knew I was close to screaming in anger. But I knew that if I lost this chance to build bridges, I would lose her forever. Now, she looks at me as her best friend as she shares all her innermost fears and secrets. I feel like the luckiest mother in the world.
I set three goals for myself in 2019, all of which I fortunately managed to meet. I graduated from my final year at university with first class honours, my internship became a full-time job once my exams concluded, and I got myself my own apartment! Working towards securing my full-time job and trying to achieve the best grades simultaneously were arguably the toughest parts of my year. I had to meet everyone's expectations, right from my boss and colleagues to my professors, friends and family. Working efficiently was crucial and I couldn't afford to waste any time. At times, it would be extremely overwhelming. I felt as though I needed to be locked away just so I could get a little time to myself. I wanted to give up. But you have to remind yourself why you set those goals in the first place: it's not always about staying happy in the moment. It's also about creating an effort to make sure you're happy in the future.
In 2019, I finally decided to step out of my comfort zone and travel the world. Last June, I booked a ticket to Azerbaijan to work with an NGO called AIESEC. I spent six weeks hiking through the borders of Russia, Iran and Turkey. The experience was exhilarating: I got tattooed by Snegha from Ukraine, I danced to Italian songs with Ludovica from Napoli and I tried khachapuri with Paulina from Russia. I learned to tackle my social anxiety. Sometimes, I felt a little bit isolated because of the language barrier, but most of the travellers spoke broken English. And, at the end of the day, we all shared the same love for travelling - not to mention, the game charades.