“I get knocked down, but I get up again. They’re never going to keep me down!” – Chumbawamba
We’re less than 60 days into 2018 but the odds are that most of us will already have abandoned our new year’s resolutions. Gone is the fired up, full-throttle commitment to change that launched on January 1 and there’s a good chance that our momentum has either stalled completely or is in the process of sputtering to a halt. No doubt regular gym goers are breathing a quiet sigh of relief as the number of people competing for a spot on the treadmill returns to its pre-January levels while gym owners are happily collecting the monthly membership dues from patrons who likely won’t set foot through the door more than 6 times in the next 10 months.
However, the reality is that we’re less than 60 days into 2018. This means we have more than 300 days left in the year. That’s plenty of time to accomplish all kinds of positive, significant and potentially life-changing things so why are we so willing to write off the resolutions that had us so fired up less than two months ago just because we didn’t make the initial progress that we thought we would?
There’s plenty of research that suggests it takes at least 28 days to make a habit. There’s plenty of evidence to support the fact that very few people accomplish what they set out to on the first try. Fables and proverbs are packed with stories and sayings that encourage us to “try, try, try again”; that reminds us of the importance of learning from our experiences and reassure us that, even though it’s unlikely, the slow and steady tortoise can outrun the hare. When you look at all the evidence, it almost seems laughable that we seriously think we can make a lifelong change without any hiccups, stalls or do-overs.
Like many others, I started out the year full of enthusiasm and good intentions. I set some goals and made some changes. Some of them have stuck; others have been seriously derailed. So now, I’m faced with a choice… abandon the goals that didn’t stick, or go back and attack them a little differently? Let myself off the hook; or re-commit to making a change? If you find yourself in the same boat, then here are some tips for ‘resetting’ your resolutions and getting your 2018 back on track:
Define Your Motivator
We need something bigger than the goal itself to keep us going when things get tough and all we want to do is quit. One of the key reasons that people abandon their resolutions is that they’re not actually driven to achieve the end result. If you’re resolving to exercise more because you “should” and not because you seriously want to drop weight and get in shape, then you’re destined to fail.
You have to seriously want what you’re working for because that’s the only way you’ll motivate yourself to keep making all the tiny changes you need to, in order to cement the habits that will carry you to the end zone. Working towards something you’re not actually committed to achieving is an exercise in frustration and a waste of your time and energy.
If you’re planning on re-setting your resolutions, your first question should be ‘why do I want this?’. Find a reason that motivates you; something that resonates deep inside. If you can’t, then focus your attention on a different goal; one that does fire you up and gets you excited to make a change.
Make a Plan
Don’t be fooled by the fact this one is second on the list. It is by far the most important. The key difference between a resolution and a goal is that resolving to do something isn’t enough; you have to take action. Your best chance of taking the right action is to have a plan that clearly defines how you will get from where you are to where you want to be and how long it will take to get there.
It’s no different than a GPS: If you’re sitting in Halifax, NS and you type “Vancouver” into Google Maps, it will show you Vancouver on a map of Canada. Depending on your perception of distance, you might be able to estimate how long it will take to drive there, you might even be able to figure out which would be the fastest route. However, your best bet for actually getting there in the shortest time via the best route is to hit the ‘directions’ icon and take a look at your options.
Hitting that button takes your intention (to drive from Halifax to Vancouver), shows you what actions you need to take in order to achieve it and also gives you a realistic time frame for achieving it. You can modify the goal (adjust the route, add stops etc.) and the GPS will adjust the time frame so that it’s still realistic. Without that clearly defined plan, your chances of getting to your destination are much smaller and the chances that you’ll get off track (or never set out in the first place) are much, much greater.
After years of goal setting, the one thing I know for sure is that the person most likely to get between me and my goals is myself. While it would be easy to blame outside forces such as people or circumstances, the truth is that any of those obstacles could have been overcome if I’d just taken a step back and got out of my own way.
The human brain likes safety and its definition of ‘safe’ usually means ‘familiar and known’. When you make a change, you’re taking yourself away from where you were and into unfamiliar territory and, even though the change you’re making might be incredibly positive, that unfamiliarity translates as “danger” to your brain.
Sometimes it’s easy to recognize when our brain is uncomfortable: ‘butterflies’ in the stomach, lack of appetite, a racing pulse, sweaty palms or just a general feeling of unease are all common symptoms that most of us have experienced in a variety of situations. However, there are more subtle, subconscious ‘tricks’ that the brain uses to bring us back into the safe zone such as tempting us to abandon new habits (eat the bag of chips; stay in bed instead of going to the gym; just one beer/candy/cigarette won’t hurt etc.) or helping us talk ourselves out of them (it’s too hard; I’m not good enough; the timing’s not right; I need more training; I need to do more planning; today’s not a good day etc.).
If you know that achieving your goals will take you to a better place in life than you are right now then you owe it to yourself to dig deep and push through your brain’s initial resistance to the plan. Knowing what your brain is doing reduces the risk that you’ll interpret all those reasons “why not” as justification for stopping and increases the chances that you’ll see them as a sign that you’re making progress towards your goal.
When you get nervous about moving into a new place, try challenging your brain to consider “what if I don’t?” instead of just “what if?”. If you can make your brain uncomfortable with your current situation, it’s more likely to work with you instead of against you when it comes to moving forward. For example: instead of entertaining your brain’s ‘what if I go for this promotion and I don’t get it?’ perspective, try countering with ‘what if I don’t go for this promotion and 5 years from now I’m still stuck in the same role I am now?’. Or, instead of ‘I can’t take on an extra part-time job so I can get my debt paid off faster because I’d have no time for my friends/family/hobbies’ try countering with ‘what if I keep carrying this debt and this time next year I’m worse off than I am now”.
Highlight the negatives, not so that you’re overwhelmed by despair, but in order to spark your brain into action. As Anais Nin said, change comes when the “risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”. Being able to overcome your brain’s resistance to growth (and anticipating how that might show up) is critical to achieving your intended goal.
So, here we are. Less than 60 days into 2018. With more than 300 days left in the year. If you started out the year with a resolution that somehow got lost over the past few weeks then you still have plenty of time to reset and restart. Figure out your motivator, set out a plan and anticipate how you might sabotage yourself. Then get out of your own way and start moving… and if you fall, just get up and keep going!