On the first day of the New Year, millions of us spent our day vowing to bring about radical change in our lives. From spending more quality time with our families, to losing weight or writing that book that we promised we’d write last year, and the year before that.

But what is interesting is that within the very same month, many of us will not only have failed to start, but have forgotten about our resolutions altogether.

So, what is behind our lack of resolve?

Our brains are hard-wired to find new things captivating and exciting, so the prospect of a fresh start or a new challenge feels exhilarating, seizing our attention and rousing our interest levels. So, we’re all fired up and ready to go, but not only may our resolutions have been completely unrealistic, we may not necessarily have the skills to put them into action either.

Unfortunately, when we don’t follow through with our well-made plans, we start questioning our own impulses, motives and integrity. This can leave us with a combination of negative feelings, from guilt, regret and disappointment to self-pity, anger and overwhelm.

How do we set our resolutions, and stick to them?

Firstly, it’s important to realise that we don’t have to fall into the trap of setting New Year’s resolutions; we can make positive change in our lives at any point in the year. What’s key is ensuring that whatever positive change we wish to bring about, we do so with the long term in mind.  Here’s some tips which may help:

  1. Take some time to figure things out. Before you commit to a resolution, spend some time understanding what you really want and why.  If your resolution is to spend more quality time with family, find out what it is that is keeping you away from them in the first place and understand if this is something you can change or adapt.  If you want to stop fighting with a family member, work out what it is specifically that is causing the upset in the first place and take time to considering ways to remedy it.  You need to understand what leads to a behaviour in order to then change it.
  1. Don’t just pay yourself lip service. We all know when we’re doing this. “I’ll definitely get around to clearing out the loft this year”, but we know when we aren’t really committing fully yet, we are still upset with ourselves when we fail. It comes down to self-trust.  Self-trust grows when there is alignment between what we say and what we do and it is a basic principle of accountability.  So, the more we hold ourselves accountable, the more our self-trust grows and vice versa.  When we trust ourselves, we are better equipped to enter into the process of discovery and change.
  1. Be realistic. If you set yourself some realistic goals it will encourage more permanent lifestyle changes, so you won’t fall at the first hurdle. Your goals need to be conducive to your lifestyle and you need to feel compelled and driven to accomplish them, as opposed to setting a resolution to resolve a criticism of yourself which you’re a lot less likely to follow through with.
  1. Be specific. Saying “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to manage my time better” are great high-level goals, but what they are not, is specific. Be very clear with your expectations of yourself, and set a precise and defined goal. For example, “I will spend every Friday morning from 10am-11am focussed on scheduling my dairy for the following week and allocating a timescale to each task”. This is a very specific activity, so you already know what is expected of yourself each week; and it’s a lot easier to realise than “I will manage my time better”.

Most importantly, when setting resolutions and targets, don’t give yourself a hard time if they aren’t realised. It’s good to give yourself something to focus on and to clarify your aims for the year ahead, but consider smaller gradual changes, which are well defined. There will be less chance of you reverting back to old habits, just a few weeks in.