Every year, most of us start an endeavour on New Year’s Day. We steel ourselves. Gird our loins. Prepare to push through and nail it, teeth gritted.
That reads like self flagellation, punishment, something to fear, or loathe. But damn it I’ll get there if it kills me!
Sounds tough, but why, when it could be beautiful, enjoyable even. Read on.
New Year’s Resolutions rely on negative motivation. “I must not fail”. “I’ll let myself down”. “I’m determined to make it.’ “Keep going, you idiot”. Negativity doesn’t allow us to thrive.
Our motivation is not limitless. We have a finite reserve each day. We might use it on work, on boarding out the loft, running 10K, visiting a dying relative, or tidying up paper cups at a kid’s birthday party. All our daily activities add up, using it, until often the pot is empty by the evening… You know what’s coming - not going to the gym after all, having a whole bottle of wine, eating all the chocolate. It’s not your fault, it’s natural.
If the pot runs dry, it is extremely difficult to push ourselves through that extra bit, day after day. This is why New Year’s Resolutions fail. Because they feel grim. Grim isn’t something our brains like, longterm. Your unconscious is going to fight you. And your unconscious thoughts will often win.
January itself is a drain on our resources. It is cold, you may be skint, work has ramped up, you can’t exercise as much, it’s dark, etc. January is, for many, the hardest month to push yourself.
You’ve got to keep pushing yourself for weeks, months, maybe you want to for a lifetime, beyond this year. What about after 2022?…
So stop pushing.
I said it could be beautiful, not tough. Here’s now:
First, identify the change, or gain, you want to make.
Let’s use little(ish) old Dad Bod me as an example. I want to lose weight. I’m doing that right now.
I want to lose 9kg (20lbs), because I’m sick of being a bit flumpy, of crawling up hills on my bike, and I’m keen to reach my 50th birthday next year light & active. Not shuffling around feeling ok, but not great, about my appearance. There may be (is) some vanity involved. Doesn’t matter. It’s personal to me.
Eek, complexity caveat: I’m actually losing weight, not drinking booze and not drinking coffee.
That is a LOT to take on at once. This isn’t some grand test of my resolve. I’ve already tested the water with all three, for a few years, seeing that these things ALWAYS make me happier.
Not drinking makes me feel better, stops me eating crap, means I’m less tired so I drink coffee, which makes me more tired. Which makes me gain weight. Which makes me dislike myself, which makes me drink, which makes me have coffee, which makes me tired…round and round. These three are symbiotic. So I did them all in one. Again, this is personal.
I’m way down the line on this, getting closer and closer, having failed when I’m knackered at work, but more and more keen, happy, excited, to stop them, because they shit up my life.
Again, REPEAT, this is personal to me. Your life, your choices.
2. You WANT This. This Is For You
This is 90% of the success of resolutions. In fact, stop calling them that. They’re improvements, treats, cuddles, slaps on the back - whatever is your positive inner dialogue. I call them treats for myself.
Treat?? The key here is that your goal is to benefit you. I want to lose weight because I like myself more, I go up hills fast on my bike, life is more fun, I can take my top off and flex my biceps in board meetings, howling like Tarzan.
Wait, no, that’s a fantasy, ummmm….aaaaannyway…
I don’t want to drink alcohol as some sort of stoic challenge to grind through. I don’t want to booze because it makes me feel like shit, makes me eat crap, makes me grumpy, sad, soft gilled and fat waisted. Not drinking makes me feel good. It’s my treat.
3. When To Start
Is this a 1 month thing, say a charity fundraiser? You don’t care about it after January? Then fuck it, go for it, ignore my blog - though it will help. I’m interested in the long term gains. The life changers. The life tweaks that add up.
Usually, a resolution is an expression of a long term want or need. Weight loss, booze reduction, stress relief, working life improvement, going to bed earlier, seeing more of the kids, etc.
So heh, you can start on the 1st of January. It’s the most obvious juncture to start afresh. But you can start anytime. The time that you’re sick of it, that is quiet, like a holiday, but you HAVE to start.
You’re worth it (said in Californian life coach voice).
4. When To Finish
Set no end date. If this is to help you, treat you, why would you limit that? Maybe I’ll never drink again, never drink coffee again, always be (soon) thin.
Maybe none of those matter to me long term. Doesn’t matter. They are important to me now. I may always want to be like this.
I don’t have the pressure of NEVER though. Never is final, scary, hard to imagine. So, like addicts are advised, I take each day as it comes. Each new day I feel better for the changes I’ve made.
Do yourself a favour. Increase your chances. Remember, pushing is bad. Flowing is better. Flow happens without barriers. Because I’m losing weight, I’ve stopped buying crap. I’ve asked Emmalou to stop buying it too. Muffins, biscuits, ice cream, spirits, wine, etc.
Because I have her understanding of what I’m doing, and she sees the benefit to us all, she has bought into my idea. So she supports me. I’m lucky that this is a team effort. That took a bit of time, but I’ve expressed how serious I am about these things. Right now, it isn’t hard, for the reasons set out here.
I also live with two children! They have ‘crap’ all the time. They don’t understand my aims. They encourage more to eat crap. That comes down to setting yourself up with the right psychology to be motivated…
5. Know Yourself
I’m a greedy pig. When it is there, I’ll eat it all, immediately. I’ll trash a freshly baked tray of flapjacks in an afternoon. But if it isn’t there, I don’t miss it. So I make sure it never gets to my house, or office.
Know your weaknesses, admit them, say them. Understand we all have them. Some, like my greed, are ok, they don’t destroy my life, I don’t need help. But I do need to help myself to make sure they don’t trip me up. So, I asked Emmalou and the kids to call me out if I pig! They love doing that, of course. Bastards.
Be honest with yourself. Set yourself up to flow. Easy, not hard.
6. “Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try”
Thanks Yoda, you’re awesome.
Trying to try is failure. “I’ll try to lose weight is a get out, it’s failing before you started. ‘Try’ is a caveat, an asterix, an excuse, an addendum, a ‘yes but’.
Words matter. Speak to yourself and others the right way. It makes a hell of a difference, especially when you’re talking to yourself. Which I do a lot. A LOT.
7. Don’t Be A Monk
Don’t live off cabbage soup whilst wearing your hair shirt. Treat, don’t torture yourself.
If you’re stopping drinking (advice for casual drinkers, not alcoholics, I’m definitely no expert), that means you could get yourself something you’ve earned, through that week or month. Like a meal out, or a jacket. (Only joking…Or am I?…I am…I think).
As I’ve stopped drinking, I do drink alcohol free beer every day. Yes, it has calories, but heh, I'm doing loads here, if I don’t have that treat, I may become deflated.
Don’t enter “gritted teeth mode”. You won’t stick it out.
8. Your Psychology
All this is is working with my/your/our psychology, giving it the best environment to succeed.
This is personal. It’s my aim, nobody else’s. For me. On my terms.
Therefore it’s me looking after myself, making me happier, more contented.
This relies on…
You have to be honest that some things are doing you no good. The booze, the cake, the arguments, living in a place you hate, a job you hate, a toxic relationship - whatever it is you need to change, that seems hard - it is for you. The hardest thing is to admit it and believe it, not to do it.
Admit what you are crap at, work with or around it.
Admit what you are good at too. Use these things.
I happen to love exercise, which is a great advantage here. So I’m doing more of that, as a treat and to play to my advantages.
8b. Self Respect
Self respect feeds self respect, feeds success. You have to start, then it will rise and develop. START.
It is hard to do things for yourself that matter to you, if you hate who or what you are.
If you are stuck in toxic habits (obesity, drinking, not talking, etc), you may be trapped, unable to start. You may have got there through self loathing, maybe punishing yourself.
In acting, in taking steps to look after yourself, self respect grows. Motivation grows.
I am seeing my weight loss in the mirror. I love that. I feel better in the mornings, fall asleep quicker at night, shout at the kids less, etc. This all feeds my self-respect, my motivation, my happiness.
I make sure my self awareness is recording that I wake up bright and clear, not clouded and dark. Acknowledge your progress. Say it out loud. Seriously, it works.
There will be times when it is harder, when bad news, long hours, an argument, cause me to want to reach for the rum, the flapjacks or, even the coffee too. That’s where, if as many of the above are in place as possible (all is hard), you’re in the best position to apply our motivation.
I say to myself, in my head, often out loud “This is working, it’s for you, you’re enjoying it” when I’m tempted to drink or have a massive portion.
I am respecting myself by looking after my mind and body. Same thing. I like myself more for doing that. I’m not being ‘good’ or ‘boring’ or ‘goody two shoes’.
I’m doing this for myself. Not for you. I want this. I’m happier for it. I deserve to feel better. It isn’t hard, it's actually fun.
Take care and don’t beat yourself up if this all feels very out of reach, if you are depressed and stuck. I’m in a good place right now, so I’m going for it. I haven’t been before, and was stuck, I know how that feels.
One small step at a time.