It’s that time of year. Many resolutions have been made, and unfortunately, but not surprisingly, most of them have already been broken. How are yours fairing? One of the key reasons why our resolutions fail is because we haven’t given them enough true value. If you really valued them, you would commit to them right? In fact, they wouldn’t even be New Year resolutions, because you would probably already be doing them!! This piece will highlight what tends to go wrong, how you can increase the real value of your New Year’s Resolutions to ensure they become a reality in 2018.

It’s a question of pleasure vs pain!

There are two types of New Year’s Resolutions: Those that focus on achieving an idealistic and perfect picture of the future; or those focused on improving something

Psychologists have been telling us for a long time that two strong forces motivate action: The achievement of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. From a survival perspective we are much more strongly motivated to avoid negative events and experiences, over the achievement of positive ones.

Can you guess which group most resolutions fall into? That’s right, the aspirational hopeful group (!), such as deciding that 2018 will be the year you  become a better looking, thinner, richer, French speaking, instrument playing version of your current self!

These type of resolutions are less likely to be accomplished, because there’s less pain associated with NOT achieving them! And quite likely some short term pain and discomfort in trying to accomplish them!

To increase the chance of a New Year Resolution succeeding, I would recommend you start by focusing on something you want to change, something that you are currently unhappy with, something that creates some ‘pain’ (not necessarily the physical injury type of pain) just due to its existence; rather than an aspirational picture of the future.

Not only does a resolution need to be truly motivating for it to have a chance of being achieved, but it should also be sustainable … and beyond the month of January! A key way to ensure the sustainability of your new behaviour is to adopt it as a way of life. Which means we need to frame the goal in a context and language that implies long term change:

Telic and atelic activities and goals.

We could define our resolutions by terms used by the philosopher Kieran Setiya, explains that many of our activities are either telic or atelic, where almost anything we call a ‘project’ will be telic: such as buying a house, starting a family, earning a promotion, getting a job. These are all things one can finish or complete.

In contrast, atelic activities do not aim at a point of termination or completion: a final state in which they have been achieved and there is nothing more to do. For instance … you can go for a walk with no particular destination. Going for a walk is an ‘atelic’ activity. Further, aiming to run a marathon is a telic goal, while running because one enjoys the benefits of it is atelic.

Setiya proposes that if a goal gives purpose to our life, then when we complete it, that purpose disappears, and so, in “pursuing a goal, you are trying to exhaust your interaction with something good, as if you were trying to make friends for the sake of saying goodbye” (philosophers have a great way  to portray concepts, don’t they?!)

Process for increasing the value of your New Year’s Resolutions

To ensure you succeed in sticking to, and benefiting from your resolutions, I would encourage you to focus on three key points. Firstly, focus on something that is relevant to you now that you are not happy with and you want to change. Then frame it in a way that ensures sustainability, so that it can become a lifestyle change. Turn the more common telic type goals such as “I want to lose 5kgs” or “I want to be able to run 5km” or ” I want to get rid of my low back pain”, to more atelic, lifestyle behaviours such as “I want to eat foods that are healthier for me…”, “I want to run often because….” or “I will identify and modify the daily things that are affecting my back pain”.

Following is a practical process to help you along: of primary and most significant importance, is the choice you will need to make. Because at the end of the day, it will be you who will need to implement change; and that will be so much easier once you are convicted that it’s because you TRULY want to change.

So, I’d encourage you to ask yourself the following questions, which I have modified from an earlier blog:

  • What is the main thing that you are not happy with and you want to change?
  • How good will it actually feel if you achieve that goal, and why?
  • What are behaviours that you feel put you at greatest risk of not achieving that goal? (such as eating too often/too much, etc)
  • How good do those behaviours ACTUALLY feel when we do them? Have you experienced that sometimes the ‘idea’ of those behaviours is actually more powerful than the behaviour itself… for example, if drinking a lovely wine and eating cheese was actually SO good, you would be doing it all the time right? But you don’t, you can actually put those behaviours aside… see where this is heading?
  • I hope this next question doesn’t sound patronising, as I certainly don’t mean it to be so…. Can you have a good time without overdoing your particular behaviours in question?
  • How much better will you feel when you get home from that party and you succeeded in not overconsuming??!
  • Does that feeling of victory and control outweigh the short lived feeling had you eaten/drank more than you wanted… How nice to not have to regret anything, right?!

The third key point is support. While it is you who will need to make the changes, having the right team around you, at least at the beginning, while change is harder to implement, will go a long way towards increasing the value of your new year’s resolutions. Please remember that we are here to help. And a practical way we can do that is via our “Draw a Line in The Sand” campaign, which is designed to closely support you and equip you to create change, and which we have extended until the end of January.

Here’s to a great 2018!!

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