When Resolutions Go Wrong

When Resolutions Go Wrong

13 Jan 2014

As we're likely to ditch our best intentions by February, here's the key to keeping those resolutions

Own up, how many kilograms are you planning to drop by February? Or have you given yourself until March this year? Perhaps you’re not going down the diet route for 2014. Instead, you’ve ditched the plan to shed weight in favour of maintaining your waistline, while giving up cigarettes for the umpteenth time. Or maybe this will be the year you finally start that savings plan you’ve been lying to your parents about for the past five years.

If so, rest assured, you’re in fashion. Losing weight, managing our money and stopping smoking all made it into the top five resolutions people set on January 1 last year, and they’re still at the top of the charts for 2014. If only trends were as reliable…

The problem is, all the evidence suggests that while a whopping 71 per cent of us start planning our New Year’s resolutions as early as July, around half of us will have given up by Feburary 1.

Don’t believe me? Last year, Time Magazine revealed that 60 per cent of gym memberships bought in the US in January were going unused, with attendance returning to pre-December levels by - you guessed it - February.
The picture is no less bleak in the long term, with a raft of studies putting success rates at the end of the year anywhere from a discouraging three per cent to a not entirely optimistic 12 per cent.

At this point, I can hold up one pillar of hope from personal experience. For while I might still be carrying last year’s five kilos (more on those shortly), I did succeed in stopping smoking. Yep – a whole year later and I’m cigarette free.

Of course, in the interest of accuracy, I should also admit that finding out I was pregnant last January made stopping a whole heap easier than in the previous four years. And this year I have a few additional kilos to lose. But hey, one for two isn’t bad, right?

And I know I’m not alone. From taking up Bikram yoga to learning a language, clearing out bulging wardrobes to achieving a better work life balance, a quick straw poll of friends and acquaintances suggests we each have a goal set.

But why is it that 88 per cent of us will fail at the first hurdle? Well, truth be told, its science’s fault…You see, resolutions require willpower and, as a study carried out  by researchers at California’s renowned Stanford University revealed, the part of the brain that controls willpower can be easily switched off when life intervenes.
It might sound random, but when participants were split into two groups and asked to remember either a two-digit or seven-digit number before being offered either fruit or cake, those who were fighting to remember the longer sequence were twice as likely to indulge. The reason, according to the study’s author, Professor Baba Shiv, is simple. “Those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain - they were a ‘cognitive load’ - making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert.”

In short, the longer your to do list is, the more likely you are to say yes when those birthday cupcakes arrive in the office, regardless of the date.

Furthermore, according to researcher Richard Wiseman, author of Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives, the very wording of our resolution could set us up to fail before we even start.

Having tracked more than 3000 Americans over the course of a year to determine their success at meeting their goals, Wiseman’s team discovered that men and women have very different sets of requirements when it comes to achieving change.

And while men were 22 per cent more likely to succeed when they hadd set a specific goal, such as a weight loss target, having a number in mind actually made women more likely to give up at the first setback.
Instead, it seems, we females need encouragement. We were ten per cent more likely to keep trying if we were being encouraged along the way by friends and family.

Does all this mean we shouldn’t be dreaming big this New Year? Far from it. Instead, the experts say, it shows that we need to go about our resolutions in a realistic way. To look smug come December 31, the key is to keep it simple. Set only one goal that you believe you can achieve and enlist your friends to keep you on the straight and narrow. Wiseman’s top tip for us girls? “Keeping your goals a secret makes it all too easy to simply forget about them. Instead, go public. For example, write down your resolution on a large sheet of paper, sign it, and place it somewhere prominent in your house. Tell your friends, family and colleagues about your resolution, and ask them to provide you with helpful nudges to assist you in achieving your goal. Either way, do not keep your resolution to yourself.”

Realistic and public. OK, deep breath, I’ll go first. This year, I aim to finally get around to improving my shoe collection. Phew, I feel better already…

Great Expectations
Master life coach Shana Kad specialises in helping others achieve their goals. She says our failures are understandable… and fixable!

“There can be many reasons for people not honouring their resolutions, but the main one is very simple: when people set a goal, they must have a degree of certainty that it’s achievable. Without that, we feel defeated before we even start. Sadly, this is often the case with resolutions, which have a tendency to feel like a punishment rather than something that can improve your life!  

When we think of a resolution such as ‘I will lose x amount of kilos by March’, the first thought is of being deprived or feeling not good enough. But we must make peace with where we are before we can embark on where we want to go.

Most people think that because a new year signals a new beginning, they will have a new train of thought come the stroke of midnight. However, if you carry the same beliefs, you’ll achieve the same results, no matter what the date is in your calendar. 

Nevertheless, each new year, many people will set themselves resolutions based on a feeling that time is passing them by and that they are ageing - an emotion that propels them into panic action. But when we fear where we already are, we take those fears to where we are going. Changing the way you feel about your life right now will make your journey into a brighter, sustainable future.

Another problem with resolutions is that when we are planning to do something in the future that would be good for us right now, we are telling our subconscious that we put ourselves off to feel better. This can be very disheartening and lead to a feeling of failing before you have even begun. Our subconscious mind does not understand or compute tomorrow. It only knows now, so putting things off inevitably leads to tomorrow becoming never.

As such, if you really must make a resolution, make one that encourages you to feel good about yourself. Ask yourself why you want these changes in your life and tell yourself how they will benefit both you and those around you. Activate your senses and allow yourself to visualise what you will see, hear and feel once you have achieved this goal. Notice your emotions and if there is anything that tells you it is not possible, address it. 

The word “change” itself can make people feel uneasy and vulnerable, but one of the things I tell all my clients is that they are not seeking to change, but to get back to who they really are.

Not believing they are worthy of their desired life is the biggest barrier to people achieving their goals. It makes them feel they are not in charge of their own lives, that they are prisoners of circumstance. 

Give yourself a better chance by knowing that you deserve it and, more than anything, that you are capable. Surround yourself with people who care about themselves and feel good about life. Take time to reflect each day and give yourself permission to stop and really feel and see what you want for yourself, feeling good in the knowing that all is possible. And know that the moment you decide to feel better, you will… whether it comes on January 1 or July 10.”