It’s been a rough two years – physically, emotionally and financially. Even those who are usually the most committed to their new year’s goals have had to re-assess as COVID-19 numbers swirled, petrol prices sky-rocketed, and load-shedding made an unwelcome return.
January is a ‘fresh’ time of year – a bit like it feels outdoors after a good shower of rain. You’re feeling refreshed and full of hope that maybe, just maybe, 2022 is going to be better than last year. It’s time to imagine how fit, how healthy, how light your 2022 self will be.
It’s a time to create new narratives for yourself, and to reconsider events that occur as an opportunity to change your existing life story.
The trouble is that those new narratives don’t seem to hang around for long. While around 75% of people stick to their new year’s resolutions for at least a week, less than half are still on target six months later.
So, what can you do differently this year? How can you make 2022 the year you really do all the things you want to do, despite a pandemic and the potential for having to do them in the dark?
At the core of every resolution are habits. If you want to change yourself, figuring out how to make the good habits stick and the bad ones disappear, is where you need to start. Here are a few ways to help you do this:
Imagine it’s the next New Year’s Eve. What change are you going to be most grateful that you’ve made? Reflect on which changes would make you happiest, then pick a theme for your year. That way, even if a particular habit doesn’t stick, your overarching intention will. Here’s a good example. Your goal is to reduce your stress, so you try meditating but find you hate it. No need to give up for good! Since your goal wasn’t to meditate 10 minutes a day, you don’t have to abandon the resolution completely. You can simply try something else, like yoga, or controlled breathing.
Rather than focussing on breaking bad habits, focus on transforming them into better ones; the old ‘swap it, don’t stop it’ concept. To do so, you need to determine your habit’s trigger (cue) and reward, and then find a new, healthier behaviour that satisfies both. Do you smoke because you’re bored, need to chat to fellow smokers, simply as a habit, or because you need a break? Stop, and really think about this. Try to figure out what the real reason is behind your bad habit. Having a glass of water or stepping outside for some sunshine can substitute for almost all reasons you need to smoke, besides the nicotine!
For habits to really stick, they must come with reward. But before you head to the bakery for a muffin after your workout, keep in mind that the most effective rewards are intrinsic – it’s about how you feel, not what you buy. Consider the renewed energy you have after lifting weights, or the sense of pride you get from going for a few hours without a cigarette. Name the payoff and soak up the good feelings that come with it – this helps your brain build positive associations with the activity.
Prepare your environment
It’s sad but true, we humans can be fickle. Acknowledging this can help give you the motivation to design your environment in a way that sets you up for success. People who exhibit the most self-control don’t necessarily have superhuman willpower. They are the people who are tempted the least. If you want to save more money, unfollow your favourite shop’s social media accounts. If you want to watch less mindless television, unplug your TV, or simply unsubscribe. These simple tasks can be difficult to do in the short term but have real benefits in the long run.
Overcome obstacles with a recovery plan
Despite your best intentions, chances are you’ll fail at some point along your ‘new year – new you’ journey. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, set a recovery plan in motion. Write down the obstacles you foresee in achieving your goal, and practical ways to surmount them.
Celebrate your successes, no matter how small
Cake might only be for your birthday, but celebrations are for every day. That’s because celebrating tells your brain a behaviour is beneficial, and that it should look for more opportunities to engage in it. You don’t need to pull out all the stops, but a small celebration can change your memory of a particular experience, making it more positive than it was. That’s the trick for making it more likely you’ll choose to do it again in the future.
Be kind to yourself
Even if you stumble when forming your new habit, be kind to yourself. Although big, long-term change isn’t easy, it is possible. Don’t forget that habits are not a finish-line to be crossed, they are a lifestyle to be lived!