Why it’s definitely not a ‘New You’
It’s roughly the time that everyone starts talking about New Years’ Resolutions – either in saying that they are the worst thing ever, or telling people who say they’re worst thing ever where to stuff their opinions – so I thought I would wade in to the middle to speak about a side of this that is rarely discussed: the practicalities of actually setting and adhering to a New Years’ Resolution.
Briefly, I do think they are a good idea but there are some caveats to that. As I’m going to discuss below, a person needs to be ready to change before they can and if you weren’t ready on December 31st it’s not likely that you’ll be ready the following day so let’s not pretend that anyone things NYR’s are magic. With that said, the reason I like them is that even though the calendar is a somewhat artificial construct and a year could literally start at any point in the solar year – there is a genuinely perceived clean slate started on January 1st. Not only does this offer the opportunity to start new things, but it also provides a really important opportunity to put past failures behind you. Sure, you may have failed to achieve something ten times before but you haven’t failed anything at all this year, so you can keep on going, unburdened by the weight of that.
It’s not real, but it feels real enough to matter.
So with that said, what are my 5 tips for making sure your New Years’ Resolution is a successful one? We’ll start at the top
Remember it’s not a new you
“New Year New Me” is such a trite and often repeated phrase that it’s become a cliché, and like other clichés, it belongs firmly in the bin. The problem with framing your goal is being the construction of a new you is two-fold:
– It frames the “old you” as bad or incompetent, which implies the need for a complete overhaul. It’s just a bad way to look at it
– It literally isn’t true. It’s not a new you, it’s the exact same you but that version of you is trying to implement some new habits.
Trying to pretend this isn’t the case leads you to not paying due attention to all of the flaws, barriers and difficulties that you’ve always faced when changing your behaviour. Pretending these aren’t there won’t solve them, and when they rear their head again…you’ll find they are just as hard to overcome as they always were
There is nothing wrong with the current version of you, you just might need to change, remove, or create some habits – that’s a less catchy tagline but it’s a dash of realism and worthy of keeping in mind.
2. Set process rather than outcome goals and seek progress rather than perfection
When people set goals, what they almost always do is set outcome-based goals which are a mistake, but before I cover that I’ll briefly cover the SMART model of goal setting. The SMART model is a tool to help you change vague ‘nice to haves’ into concrete things towards which you can work.
To use it, come up with the aim you want and answer the following questions, in order (which you’ll notice is a little different to the SMART format order, but SMTAR doesn’t roll of the tongue so well):
Specific: What thing do you want to change? Be really precise (if weight do you mean weight, or dress sizes, for example?)
Measurable: By how much do you want to change it? Without this, you can’t measure your progress against anything in order to know if you should be happy or not
Timebound: When’s your deadline?
Achievable: Is this amount of change achievable in that kind of timeframe? If not, amend your M or T
Relevant: Does this all match up to what you REALLY want? Is it relevant to your personal values? Be honest here and if not, start again – your goal NEEDS to be your own
Placed into the SMART model outcome goals tend to look like the following:
Specific: I’m going to lose some scale weight
Measurable: I’m going to lose 14lbs/1 stone of scale weight
Achievable: I’ve got plenty of weight to lose, and this will bring me to a healthy range so it’s reasonable
Relevant: I value my health and this will improve that
Timebound: I’ll do this in the next 3 months
This is fine, but the problem is that this tells you nothing about how you’re actually going to change your life in order to achieve the goal and, like someone smarter than I once said: “A goal without a plan is little better than a wish”.
Another problem with this is that you don’t ‘win’ until, in the example above, 3 months’ time. That’s a massive delay and so, really, what you do tomorrow doesn’t really matter, does it? You can make up for lost time as you go. This mindset has derailed more people than could ever be counted. As an alternative approach, you would be better off setting process goals.
In short, don’t tell me what you want, tell me what you’re going to do, like the below:
Specific: I’m going to reduce my between-meal snacking
Measurable: I’m going to have one snack per day, which must be minimally processed
Achievable: This is doable provided I make sure I speak to those snack pushers that are likely to derail me, remove a few temptations from the house and take my own snack to work
Relevant: This will reduce my kcal intake and so help me lose some excess weight
Timebound: I’m going to start this on the 2nd of January when I’m back at work, and I’m going to assess how I’m doing every Sunday
The below goal enables you to win on a daily basis and before you know it a new habit has formed. After you’ve got it mastered you can set another goal and, because you’re doing things differently, your outcomes will change.
Critically, when you do this the aim must be to see improvement rather than perfection. You WILL fall short of at least a few of your process goals in the initial few weeks, and you’ll find some of them way harder to stick to than others. This is OK, don’t set your car ablaze because you stall it, but equally, this should be a time to reflect on WHY you’re struggling. Are you changing too quickly?
As I mentioned at the start of this blog you can only change as much as you’re ready to and precisely 0% more. If you set a goal to never eat chocolate when your house is full of it and it’s your favourite thing you’re going to find this tough, so don’t even humour the idea. Consider cutting back a little instead, or consider focusing on something else entirely for a little while. The more success you have with small changes, the more momentum you will build up and the better you’ll become at doing it – this will, over time, increase your readiness and ability to overhaul more major things.
When you tell people, make sure that they take it as seriously as you do
Without question one of the most difficult things that people face when trying to change their eating and lifestyle habits is the peer pressure that tries to get you to do the exact opposite of that. It comes from well-meaning relatives, change-resistant family members/kids, friends that love the banter, and some people who may be derailing you on purpose for reasons that they have justified to themselves.
Whoever it is, this peer pressure can be VERY difficult to overcome, but in my experience, the answer is as simple as this: When you tell them, make sure they know you mean it.
Look at things from their perspective. They like food, it makes them happy, and they want you to be happy, too. They also know that you’ve dieted a few times before and:
– Possibly not taken it very seriously and/or quit before succeeding
– Been miserable
All of this tells them that encouraging you to just hurry up and sack it off is going to make you happy and only bring forward the inevitable anyways. This means that it’s incumbent upon you to enforce the fact that no, that’s not the case and it’s not OK to derail you. This time you’re really going for it and you want/need their support. If they care about you at all, the following phrase WILL work on almost everyone (though you may need to initially reinforce it a couple of times):
“I know I’ve tried this a few times before, but I want to work on my health, and I need you to support me”
Try it. It may not be a cure-all but it’ll do most of the heavy lifting for you and as soon as people see you living by your word they’ll respect it.
Work out what your barriers are going to be.
As I mentioned above you WILL have barriers during this process. You can’t escape that and burying your head in the sand won’t work – as such your best bet is to simply pre-empt the barriers and work out how you’re going to tackle them. Whatever you’re trying to do, sit down with a pen and paper for 20 minutes and answer the following questions:
– How am I going to achieve this on weekdays
– How will I do it on weekends?
– What made my last attempt at this difficult?
– Are my friends and family onboard?
– How will I do this when I’m short on time or something comes up?
– When I can’t do this as I’d like to, what’s my Plan B?
By answering all of these questions (and any more particularly relevant to you) you start to think ahead and are then able to put things in place to start overcoming any issues that are going to inevitably arise. Having plans in place won’t remove barriers or make them easy, but they certainly make it harder to just set fire to all the progress you may have made as soon as things are a little less than straightforward.
Start smaller than you think you should
And finally, we need to talk realistic-ness. This was covered by the goal-setting section earlier to an extent, but here I want to put something as clearly as I can: you have your entire life to be able to take control of your health, fitness, behaviours and habits – literally your entire life. That’s a good thing because you may have dozens if not hundreds of individual habits that may crop up daily or in specific situations to make progress towards whatever you’re trying to achieve more difficult. Each one of those will need to be tackled but there is no rush to get it done.
None at all.
As such, look to change things you’ll find easy to change first, even if this won’t make a huge difference to your overall aim. Drink water in the morning, switch to zero-calorie drinks, that kind of thing. Over time you’ll get better at the smaller things and be able to move on to the larger. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you’re not going to change the way you live your life any faster.
But the New Year provides that blank slate. An unsullied opportunity to get started.
All you need to do is work out how you’re going to take it.