Updated: Jan 26
The custom of setting New Years Resolutions can be traced back to the ancient Babylonians 4000 years ago, who would make promises to the Gods in the hope that they would earn good favour in the coming year. There are many reasons why such a custom would have continued over the millennia. In today’s day and age, we often find that setting a goal or making a change at the beginning of the year allows us to start a fresh year as we mean to go on; it provides an element of excitement and hope as well as positive focus; and allows for momentum to build. Starting a goal or making a change at the beginning of the year also gives us more time to be successful; the longer we leave our goals to get started, the more likely we are to get side-tracked and be deterred by the obstacles and challenges that will inevitably come our way. So starting a goal or making a change at the beginning of the year can strategically increase our chances of success.
However, we are but a few weeks into the new year and the general vibe across the country is one of deflation; in fact 17th January 2022 was named Blue Monday to mark it as the most depressing day of the year! The lack of sunshine and freezing temperatures here in the UK do little to energise and motivate...it’s enough to make us forget the plans and promises we may have made to ourselves for creating a better life or to nurture a better version of ourselves in the year ahead. For many of us, motivation for change is at an all-time low.
And yet... these are the times when focusing on creating a more rewarding life for ourselves is most important; it is this focus that will help us navigate through the long, cold winter months and times of uncertainty and social unrest. Because nothing stays the same, spring will arrive soon enough and what flowers will depend on what we do, or don’t do, here and now.
So how can we stay motivated and committed to making the longer term changes we desire when we find ourselves in a winter funk?
1. Be clear on what you want and WHY you want it!
If you read my blogs on End of Year Reviews and Vision Boards, you may already have an idea of what you want (*if not you may want to take a step back and do the work). Being clear on WHY you want to achieve something is KEY to staying motivated and keeping your eye on the prize! To find this out you can ask yourself at least 3 "why's?" in order to understand the key motivation behind your desire for change.
For example, if you wanted to change your job, your initial why may be because you want more money; if you asked yourself why having more money is so important you, your second why may be because it would afford you a better lifestyle; if you asked yourself why having a better lifestyle is so important to you, your third why may be because it would make life more rewarding and bring you and your loved ones more joy, connection and a sense of freedom. Or it could be because the absence of money creates stress and anxiety which impacts your mental health or relationships negatively. So the key motivation behind changing your job isn't money; it is the desire for joy, connection and freedom for yourself and your loved ones (pleasure) or the avoidance of stress and anxiety (pain), which are much more powerful motivators than money.
Having a clear vision of the why’s underlying our desires is key to staying motivated and enduring any short-term discomfort or fears that may be associated with making a change. Being able to magnify our feelings around the pleasure we would gain - through daydreaming or meditation or journaling or creating a vision board - primes the brain and nervous system for taking the necessary action to turn our goals and dreams into our reality. Focusing on the consequences of not making the change will also have the same effect, by associating pain and discomfort with staying the same. Because the reality is that our comfort zones aren’t really that comfortable, they can in fact be very painful, and the sooner we understand this the sooner we can get out of our own way and start taking steps in the direction we actually want life to go.
2. Baby Steps
Whatever we may be aiming to achieve - whether it is a change in behaviour, kicking a habit, or working towards achieving a long term goal - breaking the task down into small, simple steps and allowing room for errors and learning, is more realistic to work towards and achieve, than trying to tackle the entire mountainous task perfectly in one go. So setting small, realistic tasks or goals at the start of each day can help keep us focused.
It’s also important to keep perspective…we are all still currently living in the middle of a global pandemic! Any positive or constructive steps we take in making a change, no matter how small, are still significant achievements, even if we cannot maintain momentum and even if we take steps backwards. If we were aiming to have a whole year of eating healthily for example, and we ‘fell off the wagon’ 3 days a week for the whole year, we would have still eaten healthily more than 60% of the time, which is a significant achievement and enough to experience at least some of the positive benefits of a healthier diet. If each day we put one foot in front of the other, eventually we will arrive somewhere new!
3. The Power of Reward
In his book ‘Standing on the Shoulder of Giants’, Tony Robbins explains that if we want to succeed in maintaining new behaviours and habits once they have been established, we must set up a reward system in order to reinforce our new behaviour. Our chosen reward should be administered as soon as a new habit has been executed or goal/task has been completed or achieved, and we need to keep our personalised rewards varied and fun, with the occasional surprise/perk which is great for reinforcement – because everybody loves a bonus! This is how our nervous system starts to associate change with pleasure instead of pain, and overrides our negative bias towards the unfamiliar. Failure to reward ourselves for our successes will eventually result in a loss of motivation and a regression in progress, so we shouldn't think of rewards as a luxury but a necessity for ensuring success.
For those of us who are completely unmotivated in taking action, giving ourselves a large reward before even starting to make a change can put us in a state of such pleasure, that we will become more motivated to change in order to gain more pleasure in future. Granted this is a high risk strategy, so approach with caution! For self-reward ideas click on the following link: 155 Ways to Reward Yourself for Reaching Your Goals (developgoodhabits.com).
Remember: abstaining from our rewards while we are working towards a goal is necessary for the reward to be experienced as a positive reinforcement for our achievements. Indulging in our rewards irrespective of progress and achievement will reduce its value and have no impact on motivation or helping to ensure our success.
4. Stay Accountable
We are responsible for our decisions and behaviour, and for making any changes relating to ourselves, even when faced with adversity. Failure to take responsibility means that this power is then left to someone or something else to dictate our lives and future, which rarely ends well because everyone has their own agenda and there is always a conflict of interest. So if we want to live a life that is authentic to who we are and what we value, what brings us a sense of joy and purpose, we need to take responsibility and be held accountable for our actions. We can do this by:
Telling friends and family about our plans. Yes this makes me cringe too! But there's no denying that an announcement to our nearest and dearest, especially on social media, can help nudge us in the right direction. Because when we feel the world is watching, the threat of social humiliation, judgement and criticism is often high enough to push us past any resistance we may experience on the path to change, forcing us to take action aligned with our own success.
Keeping track of daily and weekly wins. It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come when it feels that there is still so far to go, and most goals require time, focus, effort and patience. Recognising progress, no matter how small, is essential in staying optimistic and motivated. This can be done through journaling, using a goal tracking template or phone apps (e.g. Fabulous: Daily Motivation & Habit Tracker, Noom, Deepstash, HabitNow etc).
Getting support from a Mentor or a Life Coach – a Mentor is someone who has achieved what we are aiming for and can help guide us using their experience of success and resources. A Life Coach is someone who can help us get clear on what we want and why, help identify and overcome whatever is standing in our way, and help keep us motivated and supported until success has been achieved. Having someone who is as committed to us achieving our goals as we are is invaluable in ensuring success, as it allows us to tap into their energy, their expertise and resources, which are not always inherent within us or available from the people around us.
5. Release Resistance
Resistance is a term that is often used to refer to physical or emotional discomfort. We can become so fixated on a specific outcome, work painstakingly hard to achieve something, even become obsessed with having something at the cost of other important things in our lives thus losing our sense of perspective and balance, that the idea of failing can become overwhelming and actually jeopardise our efforts and chances of success, as doubts and fears begin to take over. The expectations that over-attachment to a goal can create, can end up putting so much pressure on us that it creates resistance – mental and physical discomfort and pain. And as humans we will usually do whatever we can to reduce any feelings of discomfort, including unconsciously sabotaging or giving up on what we are trying to achieve in the first place.
Meditation and mindfulness practice in general, can help reduce resistance simply by giving us space to let go of the thoughts and feelings of what we are striving for, and focusing on the here and now, therefore allowing us to go with the flow of life, rather than fighting the current against it. Giving ourselves permission to take a pause or time out from trying to achieve a goal, even for a few days or weeks to focus on something else, is always better than giving up on our goals completely.
Sometimes our minds require time to consolidate everything new learnt or changes implemented, in order to able to move forward with a fresh perspective. Anything that helps us let go of the struggle will always move us closer to what we want rather than away from it, because it allows the executive functioning parts of the brain to take over and help find solutions where we may otherwise be fixated on the obstacles. Scheduling regular breaks and time for welcome distractions is crucial in helping to keep us motivated, focused on our goals rather than the struggles, and in bringing us closer to success. And sleep is an essential tool needed to process learning and change.
So there you have it folks! If you are struggling to stay motivated in achieving your goals and sticking to your new year resolutions why not take on board some of the recommendations in this blog. If you would like to access Transformational Life Coaching to help get you back on track, check out my website www.themindfullifecoachuk.com/services for my services and to request a FREE 30 minute consultation.