by Tom Connellan, author of “The 1% Solution“
Everyone knows that New Year’s Resolutions are truly difficult to keep.
It seems totally doable on December 31st, when everyone’s upbeat and you’re on the brink of a fresh new year: You confidently proclaim that this is the year you will shed those pounds, or get in shape, or start sticking to a budget.
But when it comes to making lasting positive change, New Year’s Resolutions have a lousy track record. Every January, gym regulars have to battle to get on their favorite equipment, thanks to an influx of new members who’ve resolved to get fit. By mid-February, they have the place all to themselves again. That’s because after the initial burst of activity, 60 per cent of gym memberships become just decorative tags on our key chains.
A quarter of people who make New Year’s Resolutions have already given them up by the end of the first week. By the next New Year’s, forget it—88 per cent of resolutions are kaput. It’s no wonder that fewer and fewer people are bothering to even make resolutions.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are three significant, and avoidable, things most people do wrong after they make a resolution:
1. They rely on “motivation.”
They mistakenly believe that once they feel more “motivated” — once they find the secret key to motivating themselves — they will finally be able to get off their butts and take action. Initially, the act of making a resolution may seem motivating enough — but that quickly fades, and these people find themselves with no other strategy to help them stay on track.
Then they become part of the 88 per cent who fail.
There is something you can do to prevent this right now—a faster, more effective, and astonishingly easy way to get your momentum going.
Many people forget that while motivation leads to accomplishment, it is equally true that accomplishment also leads to motivation. Once you have a feeling of accomplishment, you don’t need to rev up your motivation, because your motivation arises naturally from the accomplishment. Pretty soon, you aren’t trying to jazz yourself up to become “more motivated” — you are simply more motivated. You have momentum on your side.
So the real question isn’t “How do I get motivated enough to start?” The question you need to ask yourself is “Where do I start so that I’ll become more motivated?”
The answer is that you start from where you are right now, and you do one thing, no matter how small. Get going on whatever it is you have resolved to do, whether you feel motivated or not. Take the first, small step. That first, small step will produce a bump in motivation. Then take another step. That, too, will produce a bump in motivation. And that bump in motivation will lead to more action on your part, and . . . See how this goes?
2. They only think big.
New Year’s Resolutions tend to be big, bold goals: “to drop two sizes,” “to be free of credit card debt.” And we do need goals to aim for. Where it goes wrong for most people is that they only think about the big goal, not the stages they will need to pass through along the way. They could rejoice in each small win — losing a pound, being another dollar closer to freedom from debt — but instead, seeing only how far they are from their goal, they lose heart.
The solution is to think big but start small. Let’s say your New Year’s Resolution is “to get fit.” Will you be able to run a half-marathon next month? Probably not. But can you walk one percent farther today than you did yesterday? Can you run one percent faster, or lift one percent more weight at the gym? Of course you can. Everyone can be one percent better at something today than they were yesterday.
Now imagine you keep that up every day. Each time you reach your goal of one percent improvement, your sense of achievement will rise, and your motivation along with it. And those one percent improvements will build upon one another, the same way that money accrues in your bank account thanks to compounding interest. Step by step, you will become stronger, faster, better — and grow closer to your ultimate goal.
3. They don’t realize that even positive change feels uncomfortable.
We do most everyday actions unconsciously.
For instance, you don’t have to stop and think about how to brush your teeth. But if you try brushing your teeth with the other hand, it doesn’t feel so natural any more, does it? Actually, it feels downright weird and uncomfortable. Keeping a New Year’s Resolution has the same effect: You are changing a habit you’ve had for years, and even though you are replacing it with a good habit, it doesn’t necessarily feel good right away. This discomfort is the reason 25 per cent of people give up their New Year’s Resolution in the first week.
But the brain is capable of amazing feats: Each time you do something a new way, the brain goes to work making new connections and setting up a new habit, which will eventually feel as natural as the old one. This takes time — at least 21 days. This means that you need to make a minimum of 21 days of conscious effort to establish a new habit. In my experience, it is more helpful to think in terms of 30 days, because it is easier to fit into your calendar and keep track of.
Commit to making a positive change — however small — every day for 30 days. Work through the discomfort, knowing that at the end of 30 days, you will have formed a new habit. And then it won’t take anywhere near as much conscious effort for you to keep your New Year’s Resolution.
Don’t be one of the 88 per cent. Turn your ideas about motivation upside down; think big and start small; and realize that even positive change feels uncomfortable for a time. Make this your year for positive, lasting change.
Take that first step today.
Tom Connellan is a New York Times bestselling author, a former Program Director and Research Associate at the University of Michigan, and a popular keynote speaker whose clients include FedEx, Neiman Marcus, Acura, Canadian Tire, and Home Depot. He started a wellness company and built it into a network of 1,200 instructors serving 300 hospitals and most Fortune 500 firms. More than 1,000,000 people participated in its programs.