If I tell you that this is an article about New Year’s resolutions and you immediately think, “Isn’t it too late for that?”, then this is for you more than anyone.
I’m well aware that we’re past both the Gregorian and Lunar New Years and that it’s 2020’s third month (or arguably, third ‘year’, with all that’s been happening). And by now, those of us who made New Year’s resolutions at the start of the year are in various stages of fulfilling—or attempting to fulfill—them. Some of us may be on our third month of clean eating, while others may have given up on going on daily jogs. Still, others may be going back and forth between deactivating Facebook and then spending 10 hours scrolling the next day.
In the ideal world, you’ll be “much better” now compared to how you were at the start of the year, but we all know that that’s never an easy feat. And if you have failed to stick to whatever you set out to do, chances are that you have already given up or are in the verge of doing so. But what if I tell you that this article will change how you view New Year’s resolutions and can actually help you achieve your “New Year, New Me” goals? That’s a big promise to fulfill, I’m aware. But what this article only hopes to achieve is to get you back up on your feet. Taking the steps forward would be completely up to you.
So, if you’re ready, here’s the first step you gotta take:
1. Forgive yourself.
Guilt is an unnecessary burden to carry in your journey toward behavior change—which, as you probably know by now, is a steep uphill climb. This extra load can take you either way: it can make you either run away or overcompensate. Of course if you start avoiding the goal, you wouldn’t get there! But if you try to start running at triple speed toward it, you’ll end up burning out. So let go of the guilt—but this is not equivalent to forgetting what happened! Quite the contrary, actually, as we can see in the next step:
2. Look back.
Step two would be to evaluate. Look back on your moments of failure—yes, yes, I understand it’s very uncomfortable. But remember, you’re looking at them with much wiser eyes: not with the intent to wallow in them but to learn from them. What we want to do is to dissect those instances. What caused the failure? How did I react?
Now, don’t go focusing on self-deprecating reasons like “I just wasn’t disciplined enough,” or “Marupok kasi ako“—yeah, well, sure, maybe, but we’re now working to change that! And to address our failures, we don’t attack ourselves (you are NOT your failure, dear)! Instead, we target the concrete underlying causes that we can break or avoid in the future.
Example. You promised to cut down on sweets but you ended up eating too much chocolates one time. Why? Your first reaction may be to blame yourself, but don’t go there. You need to get to the bottom of this, and to do that you need to ask the right questions.
What led to that action?
How did you end up with chocolates? Did you go shopping for groceries?
What caused you to take that action?
Was it by force of habit? Were you feeling particularly sad or stressed?
What’s the effect you expected to get from that action?
Do chocolates give you comfort? Stress relief?
3. Make a plan.
Once you’ve identified the specific reasons behind why you did something, you can now strategize to prevent it from happening again. For the chocolate example, you can make a shopping list and bring just enough money for your needs. You may also consider putting off your grocery trip until you’re not feeling stressed or sad anymore. Another thing you can do is to find a healthier way to produce the desired effect—keep in mind, what you want to do is to eliminate the behavior (eating too much chocolates or sweets) but still arrive at the same result (comfort /stress relief).
All right! Congratulations! Once you’ve completed the first three steps, you’re done with Phase 1: Breaking out of the failure cycle. Now, let’s proceed to Phase 2: Sticking to your goals. And to do this, the first thing you got to do is:
4. Go on social media.
And I’m not even kidding! Yeah, okay, maybe I sensationalized that a bit, but one of the best ways to stay on track with your goals is to let people know you have them in the first place. But you don’t have to tell everyone if you’re not comfortable. Just tell a friend, or someone in your family, about what you’re trying to do. When you’re the only one who’s aware of your struggles, you are more likely to just abandon ship when you fail (‘cuz nobody will know, anyway)! Accountability partners help even businesspeople stick to their business plans, so it will definitely help you stick to your goals. Now go and tell someone whom you can trust to build a strong accountability with.
5. Aim low.
For the meantime, anyway. One of the things that make people quit when following their goals is burnout from trying to do too much at once. A jump from zero to 100 is usually a bad idea, especially if your planning to change long-term. Don’t hate yourself for little leeways! If you used to eat an entire bar of chocolate each day, start cutting down half of that, then go lower from there. Every big goal can be broken down into small chunks, based on “time, quantity, and actionable steps”. The important thing is that you regard each little chunk with the same respect and dedication as your big, original goal. Stick with them. Every day counts.
6. Rewire your brain.
As mentioned earlier, we usually do something because of an intended good effect, like eating sweets for comfort and stress relief. Now, once we start cutting down on the behavior and do nothing to replace it, we might start feeling that we’re missing out or being deprived. And we want to avoid this because it could lead to motivation crash and end in relapse. Remember, you need to eliminate the behavior, but you want to keep the effect. So to avoid a relapse, replace the behavior with something better. Instead of regular chocolates, you can opt for sugarfree alternatives. You can even try finding another outlet for stress, like taking a quick break to sketch or watch a short cat video.
The more you keep doing something in place of another behavior, the more it becomes literally wired into your brain while the old wirings become obsolete. Recent studies have debunked the once widely accepted idea that our brains become fixed at a certain age. Research on neuroplasticity has shown that our brains can still produce new connections even in adulthood, meaning we will never stop having the ability to learn—or unlearn. Sure, some connections become so established that they are hard to change, but they are not beyond help. Your brain will eventually lose the connections it stops using and strengthen those you keep feeding.
7. Repeat step one.
Because you will fail and will need to forgive yourself. Over and over. Receiving that forgiveness is a necessary step to being able to evaluate and re-strategize effectively. With the repeated practice of accepting your failures, evaluating, and strategizing, you will soon find it easier and easier to get to the root of the issue and not attack your own motivation and self-esteem. Cliche as it may sound, you’ll only truly lose when you give up. You have to remember that you are a work in progress, and that your one instance of failure will not be enough to undo all the progress you have accumulated so far.
Let this be your mantra: if infinite chances are written in your code, then you have every reason to take them. The hope for change is embedded in your DNA, so allow yourself to believe that hope is a year-round thing.