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How to keep your New Year’s resolutions

Do you set goals only to see them fall flat? We asked an expert how to keep on track well into the year. By Louise Emma Clarke

A study by the University of Scranton in the US revealed that only eight percent of us manage to stick to the targets we set ourselves for the new year. So what are we doing wrong? Psychologist Dr Lavinia Ahuia shares tips on how to make them work for you.

Why do so many of us set ourselves goals at year-end?
We tend to reflect on the past year when it gets to December and this prompts us to reevaluate where we are, our regrets and where we think we might be heading. This leads to us creating goals – it’s similar to the diet mentality of ‘The diet starts tomorrow!’ The most common goals are wanting to quit ‘bad habits’ (such as smoking, procrastinating, eating junk food), trying to stick to ‘good habits’ (going to the gym, exercising or eating healthily), or simply making a pact to try to learn something new and different.

Why do so many flounder?
It’s not realistic for us to try and give up something overnight that has been a habit for a long time. Our habits are often born to fulfill some ‘functionality’ – ie, smoking as stress relief. It is unrealistic to quit a habit without recognising that underlying functionality and addressing it.

What kind of goals are the ones that are most likely to fail?
The simple answer to that is the big ones! When we set ourselves unrealistic, perfectionist-type challenges and expect it all to change overnight, it often leads to failure and disappointment. If you set the goal to go running five times a week, starting on New Year’s Day and you truly hate running, it will probably fail.

So what goals are more likely to succeed would you say?
Goals where you are allowed room for mistakes (rather than terming it failure), and where you work towards something with support. For example, if you are trying to be healthier by going to the gym more regularly and eating more home-cooked meals, you are far more likely to be successful by the end of the year. You may discover you don’t like the gym, but you can find alternative ways to be healthy, such as yoga or going for long walks. You won’t have failed; you will have found an alternative.

How can we be more successful?
Allow yourself to make mistakes – everyone has off days! You don’t even have to wait for the next day to start. Do think about why you are setting the goal. What are you aiming for? Is it realistic? How can you make it realistic? What kind of support can help you (eg, motivational pictures)? What obstacles will you face? How will you manage them? Asking yourself these questions will help you to stay on the right track to success.