As we said good-bye to the old, and cheered in the new year, most of us thought about the year ahead and what it might bring.

With the past two years being quite challenging and difficult as we coped in our own ways with the global pandemic, here’s hoping for a much better 2022! Some of us are truly hopeful that this year will be better and brighter, whilst others are not so sure – they’re happy to let life take its course.

Whatever it may bring, most people make a new year’s resolution or two. It often revolves around improving health and wellbeing, such as losing weight, improving fitness, stopping smoking, managing stress, and/or spending less time on social media.

Other top resolutions include:

  • spending quality time with loved ones
  • saving money/paying off debts
  • living life in the present moment
  • finding a healthier work-life balance
  • going to bed earlier
  • getting organised
  • eating more vegetables
  • cutting down on sugar (including less soft drinks)
  • drinking less coffee and more water
  • falling in love

Despite all good intentions however, it is often this time of the year (if not sooner), that these resolutions fall off the agenda.

Has this happened to you?

If yes, you’re not alone. The research shows that each year, only 8%1 of people are successful in achieving their new year’s resolutions. This happens for a number of reasons, and often includes a lack of readiness to change, setting an unachievable goal, and a lack of planning.

If you’re determined to make this year different and improve your health and wellbeing, you can be successful. With some planning and some consistent effort, you can achieve what you set out to on the 1st January.

So what can you do to achieve your goals?

1. Be clear about what you wish to change/improve

What is it exactly that you want to change? Do you want to quit smoking? Do you hope to lose some weight? Do you want to spend less time on social media and spend more time playing with your kids?

Once you are clear about what exactly you wish to change, do some planning and set some S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals are:

  • S – specific (What is it precisely you wish to change?)
  • M – measurable (How will you measure it?)
  • A – achievable (Can you do it? Is this change possible for you?)
  • R – realistic (Within your current work-life constraints?)
  • T – time-frame (How long will it take you? One month? Three? Longer?)

For example, if you want to quit smoking, be specific about how you’re going to achieve your goal. Do you plan to quit cold turkey on a particular date, or slowly cut down as of tomorrow? Will you use the nicotine patch or will you speak to your doctor about the prescribed medication?

How will you measure your smokefree success? Will you reflect on the number of cigarettes you haven’t smoked during the day? Will you focus on the amount of money you are saving? Or will you reflect on the moments you wanted a cigarette but made a different choice instead?

Is the change that you are hoping to make achievable and realistic? If for example, you are hoping to lose weight very quickly, is this achievable? How realistic is it? Will your actions ultimately lead you back to your previous weight, if not more? It’s important to be mindful of this and what is and is not reasonably possible for you and your circumstances…

It’s important to also be mindful of setting a realistic time-frame. Give yourself more time than you need, as all behaviour change is a work in progress. The last thing that you want to do is to set yourself up for  disappointment because you’ve set yourself a challenging goal, and within a short time-frame.

When setting goals, state them as a positive statement and write them down in the present tense. Affirm your success from the outset. For example, “I am a non-smoker” or “I am more mindful of what I’m eating every day.”

Once you are clear about what you want to achieve, the next step is to create an action plan. Focus on the exact steps that you’re going to take to help you achieve your goal…

2. Be persistent and consistent

Once you are clear about the action steps that you’re going to take, the key is to consistently put the new behaviour into practice until it becomes routine and part of your lifestyle.

‘In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility’ (by Eleanor Roosevelt).

Persistence is key. When you feel like giving up, or feel that despite your best efforts, you’re not getting the results fast enough, continue to put your action steps into practice. Remember, that any type of positive and lasting change takes time and an ongoing effort from you. Be consistent with the new behaviour change and in good time you will achieve the results you desire.

Through consistency and repetition, your resolution will no longer be a new year’s one but will become a lifestyle one. Start small and build from there…

3. Believe that you can achieve your goals

If you don’t believe that you can, then you are more likely to be unsuccessful.

Remember, whether ‘you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right’ (by Henry Ford). It’s important to tell yourself today and every day that you can and WILL achieve.

Start with small changes to help increase your confidence and review them regularly to help keep you on track.

Your self-belief is critical to your success.

4. Do not be afraid to fall off the wagon (i.e. relapse)

There will be times where you will revert to your old behaviours. For many people, it is often this time that they give up and stop pursuing their goal. Relapse however, is a normal part of the behaviour change process, with each attempt bringing you closer to achieving your health and wellbeing goal/s.

If you have fallen off the wagon, rather than reverting to comfortable behaviours and thought patterns, learn from the experience and start again. Richard Branson summarises this key point nicely, ‘Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.’

Be patient, change takes time.

Do not punish yourself for relapsing. Acknowledge to yourself that all is not lost, and that your efforts have not gone to waste. Focus on the wins, including the small victories along the way, and in good time, you will be celebrating the big win – a healthier you! Over time, you will be able to maintain and sustain the new behaviour in the long term.

5. Reward yourself

With any change, it’s important to reward yourself as a form of celebration for your hard work and consistent efforts. It could be a new piece of clothing, a new CD or app, a shoulder massage or facial, or it could be treating yourself to the theatre or a Gold Class movie.

Whatever you decide, give yourself a pat on the back for all the progress you’ve made so far.

Without the occasional reward, you may lose your resolve and motivation, and you may think, ‘what’s the point?’ and revert back to your old behaviour. Small rewards along the way help keep you motivated!

Start today

A new year’s resolution doesn’t have to be just for the first week of January. If you desire to change, today is a great day to get started – press the reset button and begin this moment.

Put some plans in place and be consistent every day. Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid of setbacks. Most importantly, reward yourself often for the positive changes you’re making.

Until next time wishing you all great health and wellbeing, including a safe, healthy, happy and successful 2022!

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1. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2014