How can you stick to your New Year resolutions? Don’t set them in January!

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One important element of coaching is to set clear objectives or intentions for behaviour that you want to change. Those intentions are a bit like New Year resolutions – you’re committing to change or to do something differently. And there’s a lot that the practice of coaching can teach us about the right … and wrong … way of setting New Year resolutions. Here are my top tips:

1. Don’t set resolutions on New Year’s Eve! I realise this is the whole point of New Year resolutions, but the fundamental truth is that New Year is a false ‘burning platform’.  The reason you’re setting those resolutions is because it’s New Year, not because you’ve absolutely got to do something about a particular situation. If a resolution is set at New Year simply because it’s New Year, that’s just not enough of a burning platform for change. It won’t give you the best chance of following through on your commitment. In short, don’t bother setting a resolution unless you genuinely have a burning platform for change.

2. Make your resolution about the root cause. Let’s assume you do have that burning platform for your New Year resolution. I’m afraid the best resolutions aren’t necessarily the quick and easy wins.

Here’s an example. You’re very busy … too busy … at work and it’s getting you down. You make a resolution to step away from your laptop at 5pm every day to give yourself more time away from work.  Are you going to stick to that? Probably not. That’s because you’re not tackling the root cause; the reason that you’re still on your laptop into the evening. There may be a limiting pattern than is driving your behaviour. Maybe your parents pushed you to study hard as a kid, maybe you lack confidence and you’re trying to prove yourself by working harder and harder. Whatever the ultimate root cause, that’s what you need to resolve to be able to change the resulting behaviour.

Even a classic resolution like one to lose weight may be masking other more fundamental areas in your life. And I’m afraid that means you’re less likely to keep your resolution. Instead, think about the psychological reason for wanting to lose weight or for putting on weight. Maybe you don’t value yourself enough or over-eating is compensating for a lack elsewhere. Of course, there are many people who do just want to lose weight because they want to improve their appearance, health or fitness, but often when our attempts fail it is because there is something else going on. So, forget the diet instead focus on tackling the underlying issues, such as improving your sense of self and your self-worth. Losing weight or even being happy with the weight you are, could be happy by-products of that kind of focus.

3. Set one resolution. We’ve all been there. We’re going to get fit, lose weight, see more of our friends, stop shouting at the kids … our list of resolutions is as long as our Christmas food shopping list. Stop. Instead, just set one resolution. Focus on one thing at a time. If you’re following my advice above about getting to the root cause of a change you want to make, you might find that you end up affecting many different areas of your life anyway, but don’t start with a shopping list. That way you’re doomed to ‘fail’.

I hope this focus on how to set resolutions, helps you focus on the changes you want to make in your life. As we find with so many of our coaching clients, fundamental change is possible and it’s incredibly liberating.

We’ll be coming back to the topic of resolutions again soon when we get into the development wheel of change. From that burning platform, through taking responsibility for the change and setting yourself up for success, to showing up to the world in a new way.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what kinds of resolutions, New Year or otherwise, have worked for you. 

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