If you have abandoned your 2021 New Year’s resolution, welcome to the club. It turns out, up to 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions abandon them by January 19th (4)(5). Stick with me to find out why you do it and how to make your New Year’s resolutions stick.
This article may not be counseling-related, but it is something that I’m struggling with. I have discovered a few helpful tips and would love to share this with you—perhaps you’ll find this helpful too.
Every beginning of the year, you are filled with optimism for change; for a new and improved you. You make a list of things you want to change. You are gung-ho on the first day, the first week, even the first month. Then you start losing the momentum and give up on it completely until the next new year comes.
When you first embark on a journey to form a new habit. You are charged with a force of energy. Maybe you put on your running shoes and started running in the morning; maybe you meal prep for the week; maybe you stopped smoking, or maybe you bought a journal to record your day-to-day activity in order to be more productive.
You were disciplined the first week; you were able to run every day; you ate healthy meals every day of the week; you managed not to touch the cigarette the whole week; you complete your bullet journal every day of the week.
However, you slip in the third week, and the habit that you were trying to form is now history. I don’t know if this sounds familiar to you. But it sure is how I’ve experienced it.
Why do you let things slide?
- You rely on willpower alone – Willpower is the ability to resist temptations in the present moment in order to create a better, healthier, and/or more productive you. In the beginning, when you are hyped up for the new journey, you may not need to exercise your willpower, but when the days and weeks go by, it takes willpower to perform this new task. Eventually, your willpower is depleted and you have very little willpower to resist the comfort in the current state you are in. That is when you don’t feel like a run and give in to the power of your bed, or you give in to the temptation of cigarettes or a less healthy diet than you had desired.
- All or nothing mentality – You set a goal to start a new healthy habit, maybe you decided to run every morning. After two weeks of running, you felt pretty good about yourself. The third week came and you didn’t manage to run one morning. Maybe you were sick, maybe you overslept because you went out late last night. But the following day, you think to yourself since you failed the day before, there is no point to continue.
- Inner critic – Your inner critic tells you harsh things such as ‘you are a loser’, ‘you are so lazy’, or ‘ you are a terrible writer’, and you give up because you believed what your inner critic said. (9)
- Future self vs present self – You set goals to have a healthier body, a healthier future self. However, in the morning when your present self is in charge, the present self tends to choose to stay in bed rather than go out for a run that will be beneficial for your future self. The present self almost always wins. Research shows that our brain is not wired to do what’s best for the future self, as the future self is just like any other stranger to us. You tend to think that your future self will have more energy and more willpower to do the task intended. However, that is not the case. (7)(8)
Here’s how to make it stick:
- Make it obvious and easy – Make the habit that you want to change obvious. I have hyperthyroidism and I have to take medication daily until my doctor tells me otherwise. I tend to take them when I remember, which is not something that happens everyday. Then, I learned a trick! I would put the medication on my counter—the most obvious place possible—so that I remember to take them daily. This trick has helped me keep a consistent habit of taking my meds and my hyperthyroidism has since improved.
However, if you are trying to stop a habit, you do the opposite—that is to make something difficult and invisible. I love sugary drinks and of course, everyone tells me that sugar is bad for my health. Hence, I countered this by hiding the sugary drink deep in my kitchen cabinet and never had the urge to look for it and to have it again. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Have to vs get to – When you say ‘I have to go to the gym’. It feels like a weight on your being. It feels like a chore that you have to get done and there is much reluctance in it. However, when you change it to ‘I get to go to the gym.’ The feeling you get from the sentence has become lighter. It’s something that you have the opportunity to do vs something that you’re so lucky to be doing.
- Build a system rather than relying solely on willpower – Stacking your new habit with an old habit. James Clear who wrote Atomic Habit suggested that you build a system that works for you by stacking a new habit with an old habit. For example, read a book when you have your morning coffee. If you are trying to expand your horizon by reading more books (new habit), and you have always enjoyed your cup of joe in the morning (old habit, you stack them together in order to make the new habit stick. As time passes, and with repetition, this habit becomes natural to you and does not require the exercise of willpower. (3)
- Bring future self to present self – ‘We make decisions that benefit our “present self” at the expense of our “future self”(1). How do you begin to make decisions now that benefits your future self? Research showed that people who changed in their core identity made decisions that benefited their future self(2). For example, when you are offered a cigarette, you say ‘I’m trying to quit cigarettes’. The phrase lacks a certain conviction. But if you say ‘I’m not a smoker.’ The simple switch to an identity-based answer shows your commitment to the new habit.
- Majority vote to win the election – When there is an election, the party does not need a unanimous vote, but the majority of the vote to win the election. When you are trying to build a new habit, it is like voting for the new identity that you are trying to form. You don’t need a unanimous vote to win this identity—all you need is the majority of the votes.
In other words, it is okay to miss a running session. It is ok to slide once. But, don’t miss it twice in a row. Missing once was an accident. Missing twice, a new habit is starting to form. (3)
- Reflect and reevaluate on a weekly or monthly basis – Reflect and reevaluate your habit/plan or goals on a weekly or monthly basis, rather than reviewing them on a yearly basis. As you can review and make adjustments to it in the coming week or month rather than sticking to it for a whole year only to find out that it’s not working for you(2)(3).
- Celebrate every small step – When you set a New Year’s resolution, your mind tends to think that you’ll be happy when you achieve the goal. Maybe your mind thinks that you will only be happy when you achieve that ideal weight. Or when you finally quit smoking for a year. Celebrate every little victory that you made; celebrate every time you go for a run with 5 bucks into your traveling fund, or every time you manage to resist lighting the cigarette with 15 minutes of scrolling on social media. Be creative with it.
- Be kind to yourself – When your inner critic starts to tell you that you are no good, provide your inner critic with a counterargument. For example, I may not be the fittest person, but they say it takes 10,000 hours to be truly good at something. This is one hour closer to being great (6)
- Get an accountability partner – I meant to write and post one blog a week—the keyword here is ‘meant to’. But I didn’t stick to it. After doing all the research online on how to start a blog, I wrote only 2 blogs and I stopped. Life happened and I gave up on it. So now, I have asked my editor to be my accountability partner. If I don’t send her one blog a week, I will have to give her five bucks. I will update you guys on the effectiveness of this in a few months’ time.
New year’s resolutions are hard to keep for the majority of us. I’ve provided a few reasons why it is challenging to stick with the resolutions that we made and a few tips on how to make it stick. Give it a try and start a new resolution now! Don’t wait until the new year rolls around the corner.
Disclaimer: You are encouraged to use the content from this site to improve your mental health. However, this is not a substitute for professional help (be it medical and/or mental health care, treatment and/or diagnosis).
- Atomic habit – James Clear