How to stick with New Year's Resolutions

What gives you the willpower to stick to your new year’s resolutions? What motivates you to keep going with something, even when there are no immediate results? What’s the surest way to keep on with resolutions so that you don’t become one of many who have given up by February?

If you want be a winner when it comes to achieving your personal goals this year, check out our list of pointers:

Keep it real

First up, decide on resolutions that are realistically possible. If the most you’ve ever ran is when you almost missed the no. 11 bus last Friday and dashed for 100 yards before collapsing onto it in a sweaty mess, it would seem over-enthusiastic to try and do a 5km cross-country run every morning no sooner after crawling out of your pit. To develop habits (or break existing ones) start small and build on your progress incrementally, otherwise you are merely setting yourself up for disappointment and failure.

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Break it down

Start small and build up. Let’s say you want to get to 30 press-ups a day by the end of the month. It wouldn’t hurt to just do one in the morning, then 2 the next, gradually building up each day. Even the act of doing a small part of the intended habit can help reinforce it, and also give you a psychological boost of feeling like something was accomplished.

This is particularly true for us when we’re feeling less than enthusiastic about exercise first thing in the morning. If I’m feeling particularly low, weak or just plain lazy, I do my best to at least get on my yoga mat and do a simple stretch, even if it’s just the child’s pose. I usually find that once I’ve got on my mat and done this one thing, I can continue doing the rest of my routine. The biggest hurdle is often beginning something in the first place.

Create a schedule

Be realistic with a schedule too. Aim to do your chosen activity at the time of day that suits you best. If you’re not a morning person, rising at dawn to get in shape is going to be a small form of torture. Fit your new routine among your existing ones, so that it doesn’t feel such a chore or an interruption.

Fun times

Enjoying your new habit is crucial to seeing it continue past the first month and well into the year. If you see your aim as nothing more than something you should be doing (or worse, a pain in the arse you’re forcing yourself through) then you’ll be quitting it in no time.

Mixing up your practice a little can also keep things interesting. Avoid slipping into a monotonous repetition of the same exercise each day by trying different moves, running a different route or even adding another form of activity to your existing routine. Variety is the spice of life.

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Measure it

If a goal is measurable, this also makes it easier to achieve. The brain doesn’t deal well with vague aims (it has even been linked with depression in some cases), so having a quantifiable goal helps you to see patterns and help you work out how to reach your goals. Rather than saying, “I’m going to run every day this month”, make a measurable intention such as “I’m going to run at least one kilometre every day”. By setting yourself a realistic target, you can improve incrementally and up the ante on your goals when you feel ready. Having specific aims also works well with creating checklists and monitoring your progress, so you can identify milestones and feel especially proud.

Carrot on a stick

The bonus of having measurable goals and milestones is that you can reward yourself for the mini-successes. This gives you a psychological boost and is an incentive to keep going. Obviously, aim to have treats that don’t undermine all your hard efforts; it goes without saying that eating a fat slab of cake isn’t the best reward for having lost 5lbs in a week, even if it’s carrot cake (which doesn't count as one of your recommended five portions of veg a day).

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Another good incentive is to buy something that supports your chosen goal: A new pair of running shoes; a smart watch to track your progress; a food processor for making healthy smoothies. Spending a bit of money on something is also an excellent motivator to keep doing it!

If at first you don’t succeed… change it.

And if after all your efforts to create a new routine you find yourself repeatedly failing, take a step back and ask yourself why you’re trying to achieve the goal in the first place.

Something I’ve done to help develop fresh insights is to write down my reasons for doing something, and also noting the consequences of not doing it. By having things down in black and white, I can be more objective about my goals, and re-establish what I’m hoping to achieve.

This process can also reveal that something may not be a good fit. Re-evaluation of your chosen resolution can help move you into a new and better direction.

Besides, quitting doesn’t necessarily mean replacing one goal with another. If your original aim was to get fitter in the new year, you can still achieve the same ends with different means. For example, if you join a gym but discover that you hate the environment there and have little or no motivation to keep heading back, drop it and find a different way to exercise. There’s no shame in realising that something isn’t suited to you.

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Find support

A sure way to develop a new routine into a kick-ass habit is to find others to share your journey with you. Joining a gym is one thing, but finding a fitness buddy is one step better, as you’re more likely to continue if you have someone to compare notes with. Competitiveness is also a good thing here, as you’re likely to motivate each other to bigger and better things along the way.

Don’t be afraid to seek aid from others either, especially if you’re struggling with your chosen practice. This can be in the form of encouragement, incentives or advice from those who’ve been through the same thing. A mentor doesn’t have to be someone doing the same thing at the same time, but rather someone who knows the struggle and can pick you up again when you hit a low point.

Take responsibility… but be gentle on yourself

That said, there’s really only one person who is going to take you from A to B when it comes to achieving a goal: You. Don’t be quick to blame others or unexpected events for an inability to see your goal through. It is all too easy to make excuses for personal failure: I had a bad cold that week; My friend phoned just before I was about to go for a run; I lost my gym-shorts. Ultimately; you are responsible for your achievements… and your failures. If you have a cold, rest (or if you’re Nate, go for a short jog and sweat it out, lol). If your phone rings before a session, call them back later. If you’ve lost your gym shorts, have a spare pair ready. When it comes to accomplishing things, there’s no such thing as excuses!

But with this in mind, it is also really important not to be too hard on yourself. Avoid the trap of feeling guilty if you miss a session or feel too weak to do something one day. If you break a diet by gorging on naughty food again, don’t resign yourself to having reverted back to old destructive ways. Instead, see it as a momentary lapse that can be bettered next time. We all have instances where we give in to temptation or don’t feel up to doing something. Accept your weakness as temporary and move on, determined to do better next time.

And if you really have explored all avenues with trying to stay on course, remember that there’s always next year! :-D

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