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Failed resolutions? Here’s how to break the habit.

failed resolutions

I’m a resolution failure.

According to USA today you have already broken your new years resolution, along with almost everyone else. Apparently, fail day is 17th January.

And it seems to me (admittedly from chats and straw polls, this isn’t science) that almost every year resolutions tend to be about mind, body, and not drinking the good stuff. Maybe because we make these promises after all the festive indulgence, and maybe because of all the summer holiday adverts.

I have totally failed to keep most resolutions. And that is because I hate them. My problems with them are:

  • They always seem to be about stopping doing something I actually quite enjoy. Like eating entire packets of biscuits. I am supposed to quit something.
  • They are always about rules. Making a line I have to get to, or not cross. They are black and white.
  • And because of the rules, they make me feel bad. I’m guilty if I break the rule. I’m a failure.

Who would want to set themselves up for that? And its completely a choice, no one is making you do it. I do not find the resolution approach motivating at all.

quit making new years resolutions

However, there are those few smug people out there still going: still eating 5-a-day; still running to work; still being vegan; still getting 8 hours sleep. How are they doing it? So I asked myself, what have I been able to stick to, and how did I do it? I came to realise success for me was about making everyday changes and trying a little bit harder every time. And of course, tricking myself. Here are the things I have stuck to, and how I did it:

1. Set manageable goals, not killer rules:

I do want to be fit and healthy, to eat well and sleep well. And I don’t find that easy. I have a sweet tooth (ok, ok, and a cheese tooth, and a wine tooth). What has helped me has been learning what I am willing and not willing to do. Breaking a vague notion of slimness and wellness down into a concrete thing I can actually do really works. Try some new vegetarian recipes. Try a running app. I can now run 5K – it took me 6 months to get there in 2018, now I need to get somewhere else in 2019. Like run 8K, and there is an 8k path around a very pretty lake near me. I want to be able to run that.

And at work it is the same: if you have a tricky project, a huge unknown task, or a new skill you need to learn try thinking about the outcome you want. What does success look like? What does that mean for this year? What is your pretty lake? And how you can break that down into manageable chunks?

Running by a lake

2. Learn your own mind, try telling new stories:

SmokerI don’t like quitting. It makes me feel foolish and anxious. I had huge problems with smoking. I didn’t quit smoking because I didn’t really want to.  But I knew it was very bad for me, and increasingly everyone around me was cleaning up their act. So I had to find a new narrative. I dared myself to go as long as possible without a ciggie. That was four years ago. I’m still winning.

And at work it is the same: if you find yourself putting off tasks and not delivering on the things that matter most, try thinking about the stories you tell yourself. What excuses do you make? What are you telling yourself that makes it OK not to do that thing? Then tell a different story. Can you create a game to get you to focus on the right things? Can you beat a deadline? Can you reward yourself with a fun task if you get the big horrible thing done first?

3. Break harmful habits by creating learning habits:

As a learning professional, I am keenly interested in how we learn and grown. But even so, there are times when I get stuck. I keep coming up against the same sort of problems – whether people ones, or task ones. My natural habit of planning, planning, planning doesn’t seem to solve every problem. Sometimes people do things I didn’t plan for. Sometimes there is no time for planning. Sometimes I forget to look back as I’m always looking forward, and so don’t realise when there are things that have gone brilliantly and instead worry about all the disasters that come. I know that I’m not very reflective. So I started a diary to make myself pause, think and reflect. It’s not detailed, it’s not well written. It won’t be my published biography. In fact it mostly has a lot of doodles and coloured notes in it. But I love doing it, and have learned a huge amount in doing so.

And at work it is the same: if you can learn to learn, you unlock your potential to achieve even more. What habits hold you back? What new habits would help you out of a rut? Push yourself to do things outside your comfort zone and think about what you are doing well, and what you could do differently.

So it would seem despite the broken resolutions, I’m very normal. Just like you. Now, I’m off to make a salad. But I’ll have a biscuit after.

If you need more tips and ideas on how to develop your personal effectiveness, check out our Managing Multiple Priorities course. Or call me to ask about other ways we can help you create learning habits: 020 7978 1516.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in personal effectiveness, change and innovation, and leadership development. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as...

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