Dr Maurice Duffy: How to Turn Your New Year's Resolutions into Habits
A new year is often about new resolutions. Living North columnist Dr Maurice Duffy explains how to make and keep those all important ‘new year, new you’ promises by turning those resolutions into habits
They are usually fairly universal, starting with that familiar phrase ‘this is the year I am going to…’ followed by one or more of the following non-specific, open-ended actions: ‘get fit/lose weight/find a new job/love my partner more’. But we often make these resolutions in the spirit of celebration, with no real thought of how we will achieve them. We tell ourselves this year is going to be different and with just a little more motivation we can finally take control and crush our goals, starting on 1st January!
Well, let’s reflect on 2022. Do you even remember what your resolutions were? And more importantly, did you achieve them? Well done if you did because that puts you into a very elite group of the five percent who actually achieve the change they want to see.
Here’s my prognosis for your 2023 resolutions: I give them until the end of the month, if you’re lucky! Although we all go into the new year with the best of intentions to achieve the goals we set, it doesn’t take long for many people to give up, or to forget about them entirely, and more than 80 percent of all resolutions made will not make it to the end of January.
Research shows that more than half of our daily actions are driven by repetition. For many of us, today is just a repeat of yesterday. So, you’ve guessed it, for many of us 2023 will be a repeat of 2022, 2021, 2020… Same thoughts, same worries, same dreams, same failure in our attempts to achieve the behaviour change we want to see. If our daily behaviours remain the same, then our New Year’s resolutions are doomed.
The key to achieving success with your resolutions is understanding that for a behaviour to change it has to become a routine. The problem is that many of us try to skip the ‘routine’ phase. To understand ourselves we need to understand the difference between a behaviour, a habit and a routine. A habit is a behaviour done with little or no thought, while a routine involves a series of behaviours frequently, and intentionally, repeated. Buddha said ‘drop by drop is the water pot filled’. Motivation is what gets you started; habits are what keep you going.
No New Year’s resolution will succeed without making the resolution a series of behaviours which are frequently and intentionally repeated. To achieve this we need a new strategy for achieving our resolutions, and there’s a short outline below on how to replace resolutions with objectives that work. This is a much better technique than just positive thinking. Yes, imagine the goal or positive fantasy, but then look at what personal obstacles are in the way and plan how to get over them.
I call this technique getting a GRIP: Goal, Result, Immunity, Plan.
• Goal: What do you want? Instead of merely resolving to change a behaviour, write down your goal. What is the goal you want to achieve? Be very specific. The goal must be achievable because change doesn’t come easily. It can take months to build a new habit, yet we give up on resolutions in just a few weeks.
• Result: Understand not just the short-term outcome you want, but the true purpose of your goal. When you understand why you want your goal, you will find a way to achieve it – even when things get challenging.
• Immunity: Remember you are larger than anything that can happen to you. As you move forward on your journey, know that there will be challenging times. A morning ritual is to look at your day, see your end goal, and visualise yourself overcoming any obstacles. You know yourself. What will try to stop you? What has side-lined you previously? Where will the resilience come from? Build this into your daily rituals.
• Plan: Write down what you need to do. The purpose is to identify and target your actions. Include all the actions you need to take to achieve your goal, overcome your immunities, and set yourself up for success. However, don’t stick it in a drawer somewhere. Make your goal, result, and plan a living, breathing document, which each morning you take out and recommit to. This is just the starting point – not the end game. Each day has to be a series of behaviours frequently and intentionally repeated. Each day will bring obstacles to stop you and you need to build the resilience to overcome those obstacles.
The takeaway from this? Set a GRIP plan but be flexible when life gets in the way. When I am working with elite performers I always ask them two questions, and tell them to ask themselves these two questions each and every day.
1. What is one thing you have done well in the last 24 hours? This does not have to be closing the biggest deal of your life. This is about you taking one step in the direction of your goal – be it big or small.
2. What is the one thing you want to improve tomorrow? Again, this does not have to be game-changing – just one small improvement, one small movement towards your goal. Answering my two questions and reviewing your commitments doesn’t need to take a lot of time, I suggest three to five minutes to start with. By developing and living the GRIP plan and answering these two questions every day, you ritualise the practice of focusing on delivering your goal. Reviewing the success of your 2023 resolutions this time next year should be a whole new experience!