A great start of 2020
10 minutes reading time
Happy New Year! 2020 has started and to me that seems to be a perfect time to write a blog about New Year’s resolutions. Many of us have them and how can you stick to them? We quit half way and even sometimes before we get started. Did you know that there is one specific reason why this happens? And that this reason is the same for everyone? As soon as you know the reason, you will no longer forget it and you will already be one step closer to realizing your New Year’s resolutions. Of course I will share what that specific reason is in this blog and also practical advice on how to start with your new goals plus motivation tips on how to realize them more easily.
New Year’s resolution: the top five
Let’s start from the beginning: the top five most common resolutions are:
- Losing weight,
- eating healthier,
- quit smoking,
- exercise more and
- taking it easy.
Of the group of people who start on New Year’s Day with one of these resolutions, 83% think they will certainly succeed. In the end it 17% thus. That is not a highly impressive percentage. Do you want to know why? Then read on to learn how you can belong to the “happy few” of 17%. By the way, did you know that when you start practicing yoga, you have the top five in one go? If you want to know more about how to start with yoga, read this blog: “How yoga will work for you.”
The motivation engine
Let’s take a look at the brain. That is where the intrinsic motivation is hidden, or the motivation that you need to maintain a New Year’s resolution. The definition of motivation is what drives an individual to certain behaviour. It is a mix of innate properties, culture and environment. Motivation ensures that you move and act accordingly. The great thing is that we all have enough motivation to realize our goals. But where does it go wrong? Good question! The countless temptations from your environment make it a challenge to stay motivated. Until you start to think differently.
Danger is around the corner
Your brain is designed to avoid danger. And that is a very good feature, because you are not looking forward to physical danger. But your brain has a broad definition when it comes to danger. The focus of the brain is on the temporary danger and is not designed to perceive pleasure in the longer term. So as soon as your brain suspects that pleasure will come under fire in the short term, it immediately produces all kinds of arguments why you shouldn’t do it.
And your brain is an excellent seller, because every argument sounds super logical and very plausible, so you will be seduced by it. As a result, you do not exercise or smoke that one cigarette or indulge in that delicious chocolate bar. This video (5 min.) shows why we like bad habits:
To achieve your goals it works extremely well to take the responsibility into your own hands. It would of course be great if you followed a diet and the supermarket spontaneously stopped making unhealthy food. Or the rain gives way to the sun when you want to go for a run. But (unfortunately) that is not going to happen. External factors will never completely disappear and clear the way, so that you can reach your goals without any temptation, threshold or setback. By realizing this, you prevent disappointments and you are already one step closer to your goal.
This paragraph is difficult
Reaching your goals is not without a struggle and that’s okay. Emphasizing that it is difficult, makes it even more difficult in reality. And when you think about difficult, all your motivation (and therefore energy) flows away. Words have a lot of influence on our thoughts and thoughts that dominate our behaviour determine our behaviour. If you have been guided by the title above this paragraph, there is a good chance that you will skip this paragraph or only read it partly because the word “difficult” is in the headline.
Now the solution is not to fool yourself by saying that all of a sudden it’s all easy, because that doesn’t work. What does work is shifting the focus through counter-arguments: that is simple and extremely effective.
One thought per second
We have forty to sixty thousand thoughts a day. A huge number! If you assume that we spend eight hours a day sleeping, you will have more than 3000 thoughts per “awake” hour. And if you calculate even further, it brings us to 50 thoughts per minute, and therefore almost one thought per second. The majority of these thoughts consist of arguments not to let your sense of happiness be influenced in the short term by what your brain sees as a danger. That also makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Fortunately, it is possible to train the brain by shifting your focus, so that the definitive of danger changes and you succeed in maintaining and realizing New Year’s resolutions. Shifting your focus is best done with counter-arguments. This video (3 min) shows how the brain works:
Brain training: you can do it!
Training your brain is simple by using counter-arguments. The more often you do that, the more your brain becomes convinced that the activity that you do is no longer a threat. In fact, if you consistently use counter-arguments, the well-known switch will be made and your brain will stimulate you by presenting arguments why you should do it instead of not. The reason why counter-arguments work is because by using other words you do not experience any obstacles that hold you back or slow you down. This makes it easier to deal with temptations and you get pleasure in what you do. And everything you do with more pleasure produces more results.
Examples of counterarguments: “I can’t do it.” – “I can.” | “I don’t have time for it.” – “I make time for it.” | “It’s not fun.” – “It increases my sense of happiness.”
“I have never done it so I think I can.” – Quote Pipi Longstocking
Reaching your goal
Now you may think that the brain is that specific reason why so many of us are unable to uphold New Year’s resolutions. But that’s not it. Your brain certainly plays an important role, but not the deciding factor. So get a pen and paper, because now it’s coming! If you know this reason, you will never forget it and you will be one step closer to being the “happy few” of 17%. The reason why many do not realize their resolutions is because the goal is not concrete enough. And that makes it difficult to maintain. If it is not clear which steps are needed to realize your resolution, it simply will not work because your brain immediately sees that as a danger. You can come up with as many good counter-arguments as possible, but if the goal is not concrete, the counter-arguments will not be effective. What does work, is your notebook.
Take your notebook
A New Year’s resolutions is actually a new habit and you need a thorough step-by-step plan if you want to succeed. It just won’t work without it. If you now think: “Pff, what a hassle making a step-by-step plan, I just want to start.” Then immediately use a counter-argument, such as: “A step-by-step plan will help me realize my goal!” And then continue reading this blog. A step-by-step plan does not have to be an epistle of 20 pages.
So if you are eager to achieve your goals, and you want to invest a few minutes in yourself, then now is the time to grab your notebook, because below are some tips on how to make a good plan that will increase your chances of success.
The step-by-step plan that always works
Consider the following: the more concrete your goal is, the greater the chance of success. “I am going to start exercising” or “I am going to lose weight so that I can wear my bikini again this summer” is not specific enough and therefore you will not realize it. Making it concrete means that you write down in detail what you want to achieve. Again, writing it down doesn’t have to be a long story, but writing a few lines certainly doesn’t hurt. Do you want to start exercising, quit smoking, lose a few pounds, exercise more or eat healthier? Write down how you are going to do that: step by step! As an example:
I start eating healthier and start eating one piece of fruit every day between 7 a.m. and noon. I will do this for four weeks (state the start and end date). The fruit that I eat is different every day and varies between the following seven fruits: apple, pear, banana, kiwi, orange, grapes and blueberries. Make a weekly schedule and note the fruit-week menu for the next four weeks in your (digital) agenda.
By investing time in the beginning as to why you want something and how you will realize it, the chance of success increases enormously. So put in time before you start and then take the steps. Because that is what you want, after all you belong to the “happy few” of 17% who keep and realize their resolutions!
Forget January 1st
When your step-by-step plan is ready, check it again and ask yourself this question: “What is a good time for me to start with my plan to increase the chance of success even more?” You don’t have to start on New Year’s Day. Good intentions that start on a different day have a higher chance of success. Maybe starting on February 5th is much more convenient and / or more motivating for you. Pick a date that works best for you and go for it!
Keep it small
One of the best tips I can share is: don’t go too fast. Big steps and working quickly doesn’t work and certainly not with resolutions. The smaller the step, the more realistic it becomes and the greater the chance of success.
Start walking before you start running, start by replacing one meal instead of your entire diet at once, smoke less if that helps you work towards complete stopping. Be aware that you really do not have to make instant adjustments full circle; one small step forward, is one step forward. Be aware of this and be proud of it. You do not realize goals by heading for them in one straight line. Small steps are much more effective, as this video (18 sec.) shows:
Bonus: motivation tips to realize resolutions with greater ease
To help you on your way to realize your resolution, below you will find eight tips in total to set realistic goals and get more fun out of it:
- Choose a goal that is worth the effort
Every goal that you find worthwhile gives you positive energy. If the goal does not inspire you, you simply will not realize it. Motivation and positive thinking comes naturally when you have something to look forward to. So choose a goal that really gets you excited and formulate it clearly.
- Focus on the good
When the motivation fades, ask yourself the following question: “What is good?” Almost every situation has an advantage and the ability to see it will help you stay motivated. Now it is definitely an art to see something positive in everything, but with some training you can master it in no time. The more often you ask yourself this question, the easier it will become and the easier it will be to stay motivated.
- Celebrate your successes
No matter how small your success is, celebrate it! After all, it is another step in the right direction. Compliment or reward yourself with a gift. Because no matter how small the step is, it is something you have achieved and that is worth celebrating.
- Ask for support
There is nothing wrong with expressing that you have a (temporary) motivation dip and that you ask others to help you get out of it. Do not complain, but indicate that you are not feeling that motivated and ask the other person to tell you what you are doing good. Listen to the other person, because that will give you a good feeling and the dip will disappear like snow in the sun.
Realizing New Year’s resolutions isn’t a race, it is a marathon. Prepare well and you will be able to reach your goals gloriously.
- Keep it compact
Big steps and working quickly does not work when it comes to achieving goals and is disastrous for motivation. If you want to run a marathon, you will first have to start running a few kilometres and then build from there. The same principle applies to the achievement of your goals: take clear steps forward, so that the motivation remains. One step forward, is one step ahead!
- Avoid doom thinking
Sometimes it’s just a bit disappointing and a negative thought comes along. It can happen and nothing is wrong with that. But don’t get stuck in it. When you go along with what doesn’t work, or is accomplish yet, the problems accumulate and the motivation disappears. When you are in such a moment, let your thoughts rest for a moment. Take a walk, listen to music and then focus on what does works.
- Charge yourself
Having motivation and holding on to it costs energy. The less energy you have, the less motivation. Prevent the energy supply from running out and take the time for fun things: a good conversation, sports, eating your favourite dish, etc. Doing things that you like, give you energy and ensure that the motivation engine can continuously run at full speed.
- Exercises for motivation
Do you have a huge off day and is motivation hard to find? This video (8 min.) immediately uploads your motivation!
Years ago Esther Schippers stood on the yoga mat for the first time. Reluctantly because she thought yoga would not be for her. But that single class had an unexpected and positive impact on her life. As a certified yoga teacher, she has taught in many studios in Amsterdam, New York and Ibiza and has had two studios in Rijswijk and The Hague of her own. Since 2018 she has made the switch to online. As the only yoga teacher in Europe, she gives live online interactive yoga classes. Her website has been awarded best yoga blog 2019: www.100procent-yoga.com