Are New Year resolutions a mission impossible?



FOR several years now the only New Year resolution I have made is not to make one. It’s not that I can’t see the appeal of starting the year full of good intentions. It’s all to do with making a fresh start once the Christmas festivities are over and focussing on the things that need attention in your life, a bit like starting a clean, new copy book.
The trouble is, though, that the shine on that newly minted promise to yourself wears off quickly when the resolution falls by the wayside as it generally does. So why does this happen? Before you start to beat yourself up for lack of will power, it’s good to recognise the difference between a goal and a resolution. A goal is something concrete with an aim that will benefit you, that has a measurable result, a time frame and definite steps that you need to take to achieve it. A resolution is much less defined and is often just a fluffy aspiration — like wanting to lose weight or get fit — likely to get lost in the jungle of life.
There are some things that make it far more likely that you will succeed in reaching your target. Trick number one is to make a plan of action for achieving your goal. It makes it easier to manage, too, if you chunk it down into different steps, especially if it’s a challenging goal.
Writing your plan down is a surprisingly effective way to make it stick. A survey carried out at Yale University came up with an interesting fact. Students where asked questions about various things like whether or not they set goals; only 10% had but they were 90% more successful than those who simply had aspirations. Among those who had goals the three percent who wrote their goals down were 90% more successful than the rest.
Why is writing your goal down so effective? It may be to do with having recorded a very definite destination and route like a map. As Yogi Berra observed: “If you don’t know where you are going you end up someplace else.”
Visualisation adds another dimension to making what you have in mind come true. Sports coaches and athletes now recognise the benefits of mental rehearsal. Thinking through the act without doing it physically helps both for skill learning and sport where it has been found to help motivation and reduce anxiety. If you think you can do it you are more likely to do it. Could be why cookery programmes have such an appeal; if you see someone else doing whipping up a delicious dish successfully you are encouraged to believe you can do so, too, although my cakes never turn out quite like Mary Berry’s.
Having a gym buddy, a running mate or joining a group not only makes some goals like fitness and weight loss more fun, adding an element of competition, but it makes you accountable to others. It can also help avoid excuses and giving up, say when you have made a mistake (rather than calling it a learning experience) or procrastinating, (putting stuff off can involve more mental stress than actually doing the thing! )
When starting out in pursuit of a goal I like to remember that bit in Alice In Wonderland where Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which way she should go and the cat says that it depends where she wants to go. Alice doesn’t know so the cat replies, then it doesn’t matter which way you go. If you know where you want to go with your goal there’s a much better chance of getting there.
Good luck!

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