Did you start 2020 with the best intentions but already life has gotten and you’ve quit? If so, don’t beat yourself up because you’re certainly not alone.
In fact, a study by Strava, using 2019 data (they tracked over 800 million activities), predicted the date that most people give up their New Year’s fitness goals is 19 January – now known as quitters day. And, approximately 80% of people have completely dropped their resolutions by the second week of February.
Why do we give up so quickly? You have your brain to thank for that.
When you set a goal, you set it consciously, with the modern part of your brain (the neocortex) which is responsible for problem solving, memory, language, etc and have every intention to work towards it and achieve it.
But, this is completely in conflict with the more primitive or ancient parts of your brain (the limbic brain-the emotional part of your brain and the reptilian brain-the instinctual part of your brain). Here lies your hidden emotions and instincts and priorities based around keeping you safe and alive. This involves being as efficient as possible (habits and routines) as well as staying safe (keeping you in your comfort zone). With these priorities, when you set a goal, your primitive brain will unconsciously tell you it’s impossible and you will then look for evidence that you will fail, either by focusing on what you fear or by looking to your past, and then you will stop.
Your goal to lose weight may be inspiring, but your primitive brain wants to keep the weight on in case of food shortage. Your goal to start a business may be exciting but your ancient brain may worry that you could lose your income and starve. In fact, almost any change you want to make will be interpreted as a potential risk and unconsciously your brain won’t want to take that risk.
It can feel like you are fighting a losing battle, and often you are, but there are steps you can take to ensure your goals, new habits and behaviours stick this year.
How to increase your chances of achieving your goal:
1. Ensure your resolution/goal is specific, written down and you know why your goal is important to you:
Your brain needs a clear target which means your goal needs to be precise and in writing.
Precise gives your brains the instructions it needs to focus on. I need to get my life together isn’t enough. Be specific about what you want to achieve including measurements and dates.
Link your goal to a strong reason. Wanting to lose weight to look good in a bikini may not be a big enough motivator when tempted by food. Being a good example to your children, being able to run and play with them may be. Articulate the reason why your goal is important – when you can identify a strong reason WHY, you elevate the goal as a priority in your mind.
Writing your goal out makes it concrete – read it every day so it is top of mind, including why your goal is important to you.
2. Identify any obstacles and hurdles that may (the most common ones will be fear or uncertainty but they will be masked as not enough time).
Research by psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen has shown that visualising and focusing only on goal attainment can actually demotivate you when it comes to chasing your goal. This is because you get a virtual reality experience of having achieved the goal without having to do any of the work. Instead, focus on your goal and ask yourself the question “Why aren’t you chasing this goal right now?” Look at the obstacles and hurdles stopping you and imagine breaking through those obstacles. Focus on and visualise yourself doing what it takes to reach your goal, not just on the attainment of the goal.
3. Schedule your actions each week:
Plan your week, before it starts, and schedule the actions that will move you towards your goal into your diary. A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology reported that planning and scheduling the ‘when and where’ of your actions will significantly increase your chance of following through on them. They studied what would make people more likely to stick to their goals (exercise in this case) and found that 91% people who planned their intention to exercise, by writing down when, where and how long they would exercise each week, ended up following through (more than double the normal rate).
Planning when and where is known as an implementation intention. Rather than wait until you feel motivated or hope you remember to carry out a new habit, make a specific plan for when and where you will perform a new habit as you’ll be more likely to follow through.
4. Review your goal every morning:
Keep your goal top of mind every day by taking a few minutes to review what your goal is and why it’s important to you. Also set one small action you will take that day to move your goal forward. This is one of the most crucial things you can do to keep your goal top of mind and will increase your chance of sticking with your goal.
Harvard Business school did a study of what makes someone feel like they had a good day and it was that they felt like they had made progress on something that mattered to them. This is known as the progress principle. Everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how you feel and perform and will have the biggest impact on boosting your motivation and emotions
5. Practice self-compassion:
How you talk to yourself as you strive towards your goal is just as important as the goal you set. Be kind to yourself. If you mess up or have a bad day don’t let that derail you completely. And, don’t beat yourself up over it. Criticising yourself won’t motivate you to try harder. In fact, the opposite is true-it will deplete your motivation. Rather than criticise yourself, ask ‘what would I say to a friend right now to support them and keep them motivated’ and say that to yourself. You are not perfect. You are a human and part of being human is making mistakes sometimes. (read more on self-compassion here)
Sticking with your goals will take work, but you can do it by:
- getting clear on why it’s important to you,
- planning and scheduling your actions,
- reviewing your goal daily,
- committing to one small action each day and
- by being kinder to yourself
These steps will ensure you increase the likelihood that this year will be the year you stick with your new years goals and resolutions.
Note 1- Gabriele Oettingen – www.woopmylife.org