Revive Your Flagging Resolution

Overheard conversation between two regulars in the elevator of 24 hour Fitness gym on January 3:
“Crowded today.”
“Yup. It’s all those New Year’s resolutions.”
“Uh-huh, but don’t worry, it won’t last long.”

It seems that built into the whole idea of New Years resolutions is that they are short-lived. Resolvers start out full of energy and hope – they go on a diet or join a gym. But at some point, say late January or mid-February, most people taper off and find themselves no better off than they started. You can almost hear it in the often sheepish tone in people’s voices when they admit to having made a resolution – as if they are predicting their own failure. What gives?

Change theorists Chip and Dan Heath tell us that making a change is like trying to get an elephant to change course: to be successful, we need to have both the rider (our rational self) and the elephant (our emotional self) on board. The rider provides the reason, plan, and direction, but if the powerful elephant is fearful or resistant, they will go nowhere.

So now it’s two weeks into January. If you made a resolution, how’s it going? If your zeal is waning, here are a few tips to help you stick to your resolution.

  • Keep your eyes on the prize. Visualizing the outcome you desire will help keep you inspired and moving forward.
  • Be mindful of your reasons for change. Remembering why you are doing what you are doing will also help with motivation. One client tucked a picture of his daughter inside the wrapper of his pack of cigarettes to remind him why he needed to quit.
  • Monitor and adapt. Every few weeks or so, take time to assess your performance and adjust your resolution as needed. If you resolved to speed walk three times a week at lunch but have only managed once a week because of meetings, try going in the morning or after work instead.
  • Refine your goal. Sometimes our goals turn out to be either not sufficiently specific or unrealistic, making it hard to evaluate your progress or to feel successful. If your resolution was to be a better parent or spouse, try re-framing the resolution to focus on the behaviors rather than the outcome, like spending a specific amount of time together or not shouting.
  • If you slip, don’t give up. So you missed a few days at the gym or you overindulged at a party. Don’t beat yourself up or give up. Just get back on the path.
  • Acknowledge and reward your successes. The path to your goal may be long and winding, so it will help if you acknowledge milestones on the way. This could be giving yourself a pat on the back or something concrete. One caution, however: do not reward yourself with something that undermines your goal. e.g. don’t reward dieting with food treats, instead do something more aligned with your goal (make a new exercise mix cd, get a massage or pedicure).

Following the above guidelines will help you give your rider the tools to help direct the elephant and will keep your elephant motivated to follow the rider’s guidance. Here’s to a fun ride!