Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Keep Your Resolutions Alive ...

"Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever."
~ Mark Twain

Mark Twain was right about the problem with the New Year's Resolutions. Most of them are forgotten or abandoned and then we are on the old trampled and familiar paths a month later. But how can we avoid that and actually make lasting changes in 2012?

Well, today I'd like to share a couple of mistakes I have made and often see other people make when it comes to keeping your New Year's resolution. And how you can avoid making those mistakes and make your resolution stick and become a permanent part of your life.

1. You don't really want it that much.

It's easy to tipsily declare your New Year's resolution for 2012 when you got a glass of champagne in your hand. But do actually want it?

Maybe you don't really want it that much. But the world around you or someone in your your life seems to want it. This doesn't mean that you can't achieve it. But it might be better to focus on what YOU really want. Both to steer your life in the direction you yourself want and to create positive internal motivation instead of external pressure you feel you should live up to.

This doesn't mean that you can't use "looking good at the beach" as one motivation to get in shape. But do it because you want to look good. Not mainly because you want other people to validate you.

How do you find out what you really want to do? By really thinking about it. By asking yourself if it is something YOU truly want. And by experimenting and just trying things out (the image you have of something in your head can be quite different from the actual experience). Get to know what you really want in your life.

When you have figured out what you really want take out a pen and piece of paper. Write down all the reasons why you want to achieve this. And then along the way, whenever your motivation starts to go down, review this piece of paper to remind yourself of why it so important do make this change in your life.

2. You confuse homeostasis with "time to give up".

One problem with sticking with your resolution is homeostasis. What that means is that any system wants to be stable. That goes for you. And for the people around you.

So after the initial enthusiasm wanes it may not feel as that much fun anymore. It's sort of enthusiasm backlash. This is the homeostasis kicking in within your mind (no matter if the goal/habit etc. is actually very positive for you). It's a resistance to change to keep the system (you) stable. If you are simply aware of this being what it is - rather than a signal to give up - you can persevere, be patient and keep going more easily.

You should also be aware that the homeostasis may appear in the people around you too. Sure, you getting shape might be great. But it might mean changes in the lives of the people around you too (perhaps new food and nights spent running instead of watching TV with the family etc.). So the people around you may react negatively in some way. Realize that it is probably the homeostasis in them, not that they are being mean. It's their brains doing what's natural to keep the system (the family, the circle of friends) stable when "scary change" intrudes.

3. You don't have a realistic plan and expectations.

It's easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm and to think that your resolution will be taken care of within a few weeks. In reality, however, things tend to take longer than we may have hoped for. Especially if you haven't done anything similar before and lack actual experience to draw understanding from.

To make a realistic plan you need to educate yourself. Not just draw up some random plan. Have a look at some well respected books - for instance by checking the Amazon rating/reviews for them - and websites on the topic you're interested in. Talk and listen to people who have actually done what you want to do.

I would also recommend focusing on making the activity the goal, not the result. If you focus on losing 20 pound and misjudge the time and effort it will take to do that then it's very easy to become disheartened and give up.

So focus on the process, focus on - for instance - working out 3 times a week instead. Make that your habit and adjust the difficulty along the way. You should still have your goal of losing those pounds in your mind and measure from time to time. But keep your main focus on just going to the gym or running track consistently, week in and week out. The pounds will come off as a side effect of that habit.

With a realistic plan where you focus on consistent action it become easier to be more patient. And also not to give up when you are faced with homeostasis or the inevitable mistakes and temporary failures along the way.

4. You're not changing your environment to suit you.

I think this is an important and sometimes overlooked point. To be able to change you may have to change parts of your daily environment to better support you when establishing your new habit.

  • Make it easy. The weather can be pretty bad this time of year. So it becomes very easy to rationalize to yourself that you don't have to go to the gym because of the snow or rain. So make it easier. Buy some free weights and/or an exercise bike and work out from home. This can really help you to improve your consistency.
  • Make it fun. You don't have to go running if you never really liked it. You can play soccer if you think that is more fun. Try different activities to find what fits you.
  • Remind yourself. You memory is often not that good when you are doing something new, at least for the first month. So put a reminder on the fridge to work out after supper. Put out your training clothes and running shoes so you notice them (instead of having them tucked away in the closet where you forget about them). You may even want to put up your note with all the reasons for sticking with your resolution by your bathroom mirror to get a motivational boost at the start of each day.
  • Remove easy availability. If you are going to eat healthier this year then one simple but effective tip is simply to remove the easy availability. So toss out all the cookies and then fill up that vacuum in your life by filling your cupboard and fridge with healthier snacks like fruit and nuts.

5. You let temporary failure or mistakes lead to giving up completely.

I failed and gave up three or four times before I could establish a habit of working out three times a week. I know other people that have failed several times before they were able to switch to a new way of eating and finally stick to it. And Edison failed several thousands of times before he got the light bulb to work as he wanted.

So you got to understand that failure is normal. And the best route is to keep going and gain understanding from your failures or mistakes. Social conditioning and homeostasis often seems to lead us to believe that if you fail you should go home and not ever try again.

But the most successful people are so successful just because they failed, learned and tried again. And again. They are successful because they view failure and mistakes as something valuable instead of something that is simply dreadful and painful.

2012 will pass no matter what you do. You will arrive at New Year's Eve this year too.

So if you fail or make some mistakes, so what? Since the time will pass no matter what you do you might as well try again. By doing that you can make 2012 your best year ever.

I hope this email will help you to make that New Year's resolution stick and to get 2012 off to a positive start,

by Henrik

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