Flashback to December 31st 2021—from New York to New Zealand happy people around the world are raising a glass to toast the arrival of a brand New Year. Because this is the year that we will lose our Covid kilos, get seriously ripped and cut the umbilical cord with Instagram, right? And yet just three weeks later, here we are on a freezing Blue Monday, broke and miserable with our shiny New Year’s Resolutions on their last legs. But how is this possible? People everywhere write best-selling novels, swim across the English Channel, or even climb Everest. How come I´m incapable of going to sleep without spending 40 minutes doom-scrolling every night? Am I lacking in moral fibre or simply an inferior being?
Truth is, we’re not weak, just victims of our brain’s addiction to familiar routines and behavior patterns. And motivation and willpower alone are not enough to fight the forces of inertia. As any coach will tell you, it takes time, techniques and careful planning to introduce new behaviours. But as any coachee will tell you, it can be done! And the good news is that you still have 49 weeks left to reach your 2022 goals! So instead of settling down with Haagen Dazs and Netflix to drown your sorrows, let’s take a look at how you can use some powerful coaching techniques to make the changes you want in your life. Time to relaunch!
1. Define and align your goal
But before you splash out on new trainers and take out an advert that you’ll be competing in the London Marathon, think what you really want to achieve. Is this a goal that genuinely matters to you and your happiness in 2022? Make sure your goal aligns with your top priorities to give a sense of importance and urgency. What is your real purpose? Looking fit? Spending more time outdoors? Do you want to compete in and complete a race or just enjoy the freedom of running? Is it something you really want to do or feel you “should” or “have to” do? What will success look like for you? Take a leaf out of Design Thinking. Is there a different, easier or more enjoyable way to reach this goal?
2. SMARTen up your goal!
Once you have your goal, then it’s time to translate it into concrete actions. Now here’s something worth bringing home from the office—the SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Sensitive). By applying SMART to New Year’s Resolutions we can make them less pie-in-the-sky and much more do-able. Instead of deciding something grandiose like, “This year I’m going to live life to the full”, think HOW you can do this. Replace that vague declaration with something more effective and concrete like, “I’m going to try out a new activity with my friends every month”. Be realistic—if you’re a kitchen novice, don’t say “Watch out for me in the Master Chef final”. Instead say “I´m going to cook two new recipes every week”. How will you monitor progress? You’re much more likely to succeed if you set weekly and monthly steps to your goals, keeping yourself motivated with quick wins.
3. Plan for obstacles
The road to change is never easy. What changes will you have to make to fit this new behavior in your life? Time is a limited resource, so unless you are thinking of joining the productivity-obsessed 4 a.m. club, you will need to say NO to something currently in your life if you want to say YES to something new. What can you stop doing or delegate? My kids now have the NYR of walking their dog three times a week so I can get fulfil my NYR of getting back to the wonderful Yoga with Adriene. If money is a factor, what will you need to cut back on so that you can do something better? Which do you choose? Another streaming subscription or saving towards that trip to Rome? Choosing is not always easy—focus on what your goal will bring you.
4. Identify your Gremlins!
Make it easy for yourself to carry out your actions. Smooth your path. Think about situations and even people who tend to trigger behaviour you want to discourage—and those that encourage the positive behaviour you want. For example, if you want to drink less, then plan to meet friends in Starbucks instead of the bar on the corner. Proactively plan for the times when you’ll feel like breaking your promise. So, if you hate running in the cold, get some new thermal kit or have a Plan B HILT workout (try Pop Sugar Fitness) ready for sub-zero days. Take care with people who prefer to keep you in your—and their—comfort zone.
5. Recruit allies and make a public declaration
When we publicly commit to our goals we are less likely to backtrack—not just because of social pressure, but because we want to keep our word. As Professor Neil Levy of Oxford University says, “We don’t want to get a reputation as unreliable, so publicly announcing our plans can be motivating. Betting can be still more motivating”. You heard the guy—go ahead and announce your Tidy Room Challenge on Instagram! This sense of accountability is one of the main levers of coaching—who wants to go and report back week after week that you haven’t done your homework—again? Your friends can also encourage you through moments of temptation and share useful ideas to help you. If you prefer the support of an electronic Jiminy Cricket and wider community then check out Habit-building apps like SnapHabit, Habitica and Stride.
6. Rewire your brain!
There’s no doubt about it, the human brain is an incredible machine. And as a risk-averse, efficient machine, it saves decision-making time and energy by using well-travelled neural pathways and creating “automatic” behaviours. While this means that we can drive to work without worrying about operating the car, that same “auto-pilot” will have us reaching for the Doritos after a hard day at work. So how can we take back control of our habits? Rather than struggling to completely suppress an existing bad habit, an easier way is to begin by using micro-changes. This means modifying just some elements of the cue-action chain. So if you normally sit on the sofa with some crisps every Friday to re-watch Emily in Paris, have an apple instead, leaving the rest of the routine untouched.
Another technique, known as habit-piling, involves incorporating another action into an existing positive routine. An example would be doing squats or leg lifts while you’re brushing your teeth every day. An important thing to remember is that our brain lives in constant search of the “reward” of dopamine/serotonin so easily available in junk food and internet memes. Help yourself along the way with rewards like a relaxing bath or massage which liberate the same hormones, along with healthy food to nourish your brain.
7. Surf your cravings
New Year, New Me—year after year losing weight is among the top three most popular resolutions. However, come February, more than 80% of people have cracked under the strain of avoiding and obsessing about cheese/chocolate or other temptations. Interestingly, a recent article in the New York Times shares research that Mindfulness could help us hold fast and get through those food cravings. The full awareness techniques used in Mindfulness could help to us savour our particular forbidden fruit and control our appetite for it. That’s good news for Pringles fans! And it works. A 2019 study led by Dr. Evan Forman, a psychology professor at Drexel University, found that people who practised Mindfulness and acceptance were twice as likely to have maintained a 10 percent weight loss after three years compared to those who focused more on resisting temptations and suppressing thoughts of food.
Just Keep Moving Forward
Finally, be patient, monitor your progress and celebrate your achievements. Just like climbing a mountain, take it step by step, but imagine how you’ll feel when you reach the summit. Take time to look back at how far you’ve come. Because step by step, each action repeated over time will turn into a habit which in turn will change our lives. Don’t get too hung up on temporary setbacks and mistakes—they are inevitable. What is your Lesson Learned? We hope these techniques will help you reach your goals now and in the future. You don’t need to wait for the New Year to experiment with changes – try an Old Year’s Resolution! Remember, each day is a new opportunity to relaunch. Get your plan B ready, and, as they say in the wonderful Disney film “Meet the Robinsons”, Just keep moving forward! Good luck!