A few days into 2016 and you may already be beating yourself up for breaking those New year’s Resolutions once again?
Perhaps even now, an annoyingly judgemental little voice inside is reproaching you for your obvious lack of commitment and willpower. You told yourself, this year you would eat healthier, cut back on the booze, get down the gym or go for a run every day?
Now, as you sit back on the sofa with a ‘well deserved glass of wine’ after a hard day’s work, you wonder where the motivation went ……and how you might get it back?
If you’ve broken your New Year’s resolutions just a few days in, it might help you to know you are not alone. According to a YouGov survey last year, 63% of us started out with New Year’s resolutions that were broken by the end of January.
However, in the same survey, a smug 10% said they never break their New Year’s resolutions. How come?
Why can some people focus with laser-like precision on their plans and goals, while the rest of us simply fall by the wayside? Are there dark forces at work, or do the 10% have a secret we should all know?
An initial clue might lie in asking yourself ‘just who am I making this change for?’
If you’re being pressurised by others to lose weight for instance, you are much less likely to succeed than if it is you, yourself, who wants to drop a dress size.
In a study of 128 obese people, who embarked on a 6 month weight loss programme, it was found that those who wanted to make change for the sake of their own health were much more likely to lose weight and keep it off than those who were under pressure from friends and family.
Self motivation is obviously one of the keys to success, but what about the role of willpower?
The marshmallow experiment
Will willpower alone will do the trick?
The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel.
In the studies, a child was offered a choice between a small reward ( a marshmallow, cookie or pretzel)provided immediately, or two small rewards if they waited approximately 15 minutes, during which time a tester left the room and then returned.
In follow-up studies, researchers found the children who were able to wait for the larger reward tended to have better long term life outcomes and were more successful or happier.
It seems some of the children were simply able to exert more self control than others.
Responding from your rational brain rather than reacting from your emotional brain equates to emotional intelligence. Some of us do seem to naturally have more of it than others, but EI is a skill and, like all skills, can also be learned.
Emotional intelligence allows you to ask yourself the question, ‘will this action take me towards my preferred outcome or away from it? Will this cream cake take me towards my goal of losing 10Ib or away from my goal?
Filling the intention-action gap
But it seems that, when it comes to keeping our resolutions, willpower on its own is also not enough especially when obstacles get in the way and particularly if your New Year’s resolutions were not specific or strategic enough.
You need to fill the intention-action gap with a clear plan of action.
Simply put, you must pin it down to ‘the where, the when and the how’ with an ‘if-then’ strategy that rolls your new behaviour out into your everyday life and helps you deal with the glitches and curve-balls that could throw you off course.
If, for instance, this is the year when you will start running or walking every day, you need to make an appointment with yourself to identify when and how you are going to fit that into your schedule.
The if-then strategy comes into play as an ‘if X happens then I will do Y’ for situations such as:
• If it rains then I will wear waterproofs
• If the phone rings just as I’m about to go out, then I will let the answer phone get it until I get back.
Now, not only do you have a strategy but you also have a system which anchors your behaviours into your environment. This is a good way to replace bad habits with good habits.
The big news is, once you’ve put a new behaviour pattern in place for 21-18 days, new neural pathways are formed in the brain. The if-then strategy has helped you become more mentally efficient in implementing your new way of behaving.