It’s that time of year again where people make resolutions and plans and promises for the year ahead. We look at ourselves and list all our flaws and short comings and determine that this – this – is the year that changes things. And somehow we spend so much time being told or shown that we’re not good enough that we end up believing it long enough to make it through the year, feeling like failures, just in time to make new lists of all the same flaws and shortcomings and make the same resolutions again next year.
The most successful resolution I’ve ever made and stuck to was to quit smoking. At the ‘peak’ of my smoking days I had a 40-a day habit… impressive for a 22 year old! When I finally decided it was time to quit, I was 26 and did it entirely cold turkey: no patches, no special hypnosis, nothing. I just quit.
So how did I achieve my resolutions?
1. Identify just one goal
I identified one target for my year. There was only one goal, and that was to give up smoking. I wasn’t going to try to lose weight at the same time, or try to run a marathon in the same year. I wasn’t going to try to learn a new language or pay off all my debts (though saving about £10 a day on smoking definitely helped with that!). By focusing on just one target, neither attentions or efforts are split.
2. Break your large goal into small rewards
I had my last cigarette in the wee hours of the morning, as the sun was rising on the 1st of January. Our first ‘reward’ for quitting was to book a flight to Paris where we spent Valentine’s weekend with friends. We had quit for 6 weeks, and were all accountable to each other. It’s almost a decade ago now, so I can’t remember the finer details, but we had smaller rewards in the first six weeks too – dinner out, a new outfit, whatever it is that will keep you motivated towards your larger reward.
3. Make it as easy as you can to reach your target
I quit smoking before the indoor smoking ban came into effect, so I had to avoid pubs, bars and pretty much all socialising for the first few months, so as to avoid the temptations. At a friends birthday party 7 months later, we all had way too much to drink and I came so close to starting up again, right there and then! I didn’t, and I’ve never looked back. Help yourself to reach your target. Avoid people who are smoking, don’t buy cakes and sweets ‘for the kids’, try out different home gym products from a hire fitness company so that you can exchange machines if what you get turns out to not be right for you.
4. Don’t set yourself up to fail
How did I go from 40 a day to quitting? I didn’t. I went from 40 to 20 (I stopped working 20 hour days. That helped!) Then I went from 20 to 10. From 10 to nothing was harder than any of the previous drops, but it still wasn’t a 40 – nothing leap.
Your resolutions don’t have to start on New Year’s Day. But set a day to start. If you’re likely to be hung over, or even just over tired on New Year’s Day, it may not be a good day to start an exercise routine. If you’re having a family new year celebration, complete with your traditional seven puddings, that may not be a good day to start the diet.
Don’t set yourself up to fail. You’re worth giving yourself a fair chance.
5. Set a goal you are ready to make
This is the most important thing when making your New Year’s resolutions and it may sound strange, but it’s the crux of the thing, really. You have to be ready to change. You can use every drug on the market, you can have every gadget, you can hire out every machine on www.hire-fitness.ie but if you aren’t ready, you won’t achieve this goal.
For me, giving up smoking, I sat down in the snow, after everyone else had gone to bed, and smoked my last Camel Light. I said good bye to it. I thanked it for the years of support, appetite suppressant, coffee breaks, opportunities to strike up conversation. I thanked it and I said goodbye to it. I know that sounds completely wacky, but I knew it was what I wanted and needed. I had no dependency left.* I was ready to let it go.
Again, don’t set yourself up to fail. If you don’t want to give a thing up, you’re unlikely to succeed.
So, as you set your targets for 2016, give yourself a fighting chance, set goals you can achieve, reward yourself, and make it as easy on yourself as possible. This can be your year.
*I know it doesn’t always work this way with addictions, but it did for me, in this thing. I’ve never been all that ‘ready’ to kick the chocolate, I must admit!