Seeing out New Year's resolutions

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Welcome to February. It's hard to believe the first month of the year has already flown by, exclaims life coach Jan Aitken. 

Did you make any resolutions? Set any goals or intentions? How are you going with them?

I ask because research tells us that by February some hideous percentage of them have fallen by the wayside, never to be seen again ... well, not until the next new year rolls around and we start all over again!

I suspect that's not just true for New Year's resolutions, but for any goals and intentions we set throughout the year. Perhaps we decide to lose weight, get fit, declutter the garage, learn a language, weed the garden weekly etc. But why do so many of our goals fall by the wayside? Why is it that making changes can be so darn hard?

I've heard many unhelpful platitudes in response to those questions. Answers like "Well, only the meaningful things are hard work", "You'll appreciate more if it's tough going", "It's character building" and so on. Those sorts of comments would have most of us rolling our eyes or throwing up our hands before we've even started.

Is there a better way to approach making changes that might mean they are more likely to stick? I think there is, and I think a combination of tweaks can help us change our habits to achieve more of the things we want to achieve.

One of the first things to do is to set your goals/intentions using the SMARTER (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time bound, Exciting, Relevant to your stage of life) framework. That gets you writing goals/intentions in a positive and meaningful manner. Alongside the framework are some other things to consider

 • Keep the number of goals to 5-7 maximum. You don't want to be spreading yourself too thin and find yourself juggling too many balls at once.

 • Write them down. It's impossible to keep them and all their required steps in your head. This also helps prepare your subconscious to start moving towards the targets, too.

 • Review them frequently, at least weekly. This helps us refocus when life gets busy.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
The next thing we need to think about is the "mindset" stuff that goes with making changes. This is the bit that we often don't do and I believe we set ourselves up to fail by leaving it out.

 • Prepare for the roadblocks and obstacles that will get in your way, because, well, they will. If you don't have a way to deal with them, then you'll end up derailed. What will you do if work runs late and you miss your gym class? What are you going to do when ... X, Y or Z messes with your plan? Think about the possibilities and have a solution ready to roll.

 • Avoid falling for the "myth of motivation". It's not uncommon to hear people say "Oh, I'm just not motivated to do that today" or "I'm waiting until the motivation kicks in before I start". I've discovered over the years that motivation often comes after you start something, the action piece comes first. The action and even the smallest hint of success lights the flame of motivation and from there it becomes easier. However, motivation can be a fickle thing - it can roll in and out like waves at the beach. One moment you have it and then you don't. This is when we need to roll out ...

 • Self-discipline. This is a very unsexy subject! Probably because it conjures up images of hard work, sweat, toil and dealing with ourselves in a not very friendly manner. Maybe it's time to reframe those thoughts? Self-discipline can be developed, just as we can tone and strengthen muscles over time.

To strengthen your self-discipline think about the following:

- Don't allow yourself off the hook just because you "don't feel like doing it". Create a pact with yourself to do what you say you're going to do. Again this sets the subconscious up to succeed.

- Put time aside for working on your goals, make it non-negotiable. When we start to question whether or not we should get down to work or maybe watch that movie, clean the windows etc we start to leak motivation. Let those around you know that this is non-negotiable time so they don't interrupt and can help you stay on track.

- Share your goals with those who support you - friends, family, a coach - and give them permission to check in with you about progress.

- Get a goal buddy. Someone who is working on a similar goal and keep each other accountable.

- Get some regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, keep hydrated and keep a really good sleep routine going. When we are healthy and well we are more likely to be able to draw on willpower to help us out when self-discipline starts to flag. Willpower is that psychological energy we draw on to help push us towards our goals.

- If you're on the verge of giving up, think about why you set the goal in the first place and check in to see if you really are still serious about achieving it. If you're not, be honest with yourself and let it go. It's better to get on with what's important to you than to continue deluding yourself and others. As the old adage goes, "actions speak louder than words".

Satisfaction gained from achieving something we set out to is enormous. It can boost our self-confidence, our self-esteem and it sets us up to continue achieving.

It's a positive cycle that is good for body, mind and soul. It takes a little bit of prep to set our goals/intentions but I believe it is time well spent and much better than the messages we send ourselves by setting ourselves up to fail year after year.

Take another look at what you wanted to achieve this year, tweak it if you need to and set yourself up on the path to succeed.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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