How to make your resolutions last past New Year

THOSE among us who have trouble setting and meeting goals or making changes in our life know how it goes.

The new year rolls around, we are inspired and enthused, and we are ready to transform ourselves with healthy eating and a new fitness regime.

Maybe we will give up smoking or drinking, or embark on study or a new career.

As the weeks and months fly by, we get busy.

If getting fit is our thing, we find our determination to exercise every day waning, sometimes to the point where we are lucky to get out for a walk once or twice a week.

We read blogs, hoping for inspiration. We mournfully watch runners and cyclists flash past when we are out and about, wondering how they do it.

We make vague plans that never quite seem to come to fruition. Sometimes years can go by and we are still working on establishing our new world order.

So, how do we make our new year enthusiasm last the distance? What is the secret to getting through those first few weeks or months of making a change, when it all seems way too hard?

Fitness guru Michelle Bridges says it is all about guts, honesty and the ability to get real about the excuses we make.

And, she says, the new year is not necessarily the best time to decide to overhaul your life.

Michelle, who has built a global fitness empire that includes her popular 12-Week Body Transformation program, says the only time to overhaul your life is when you are ready to get honest and real about what it is you want for yourself and your family.

"When you are crying on your bedroom floor, with clothes that don't fit strewn all over the place and you're about to go to a new year's party, it is definitely not the time to overhaul your life," she says.

"This (making change) is what I would consider a big life-changing plan and one which should be given respect, thoughtfulness and adult consideration."

Clinical and coaching psychologist Dr Suzy Green, who founded The Positivity Institute and is the "stress less" expert for Australian Women's Health magazine, agrees that the new year is not the best time to make changes in your life.

"February is better because in January often people are still on holidays, or even if you're at work there's still quite a bit of socialising going on, relaxing. You're not really setting yourself up for success," she says.

"You're better off to use that as a bit of a preparation time. Give yourself permission to enjoy that time.

"And then be clear around your commitment and commencement, and probably the first of Feb is better."

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To start making changes, mindset is key, according to both experts.

If your thoughts are negative then your words are negative, and so too will be your actions, Michelle says.

She gets her clients to sharpen their tools around the thoughts and language they use.

"If you say something is going to be hard, it will be. If you say you always fail, you will," she says.

"If you tell yourself you can't do it, you won't.

"You also need to get real and honest. Cut the fairytales and the BS. Start being mature and adult when it comes to how you take care of yourself, and take accountability. It's no one else's fault."

Suzy recommends using a life balance wheel (you can find one on the internet) to get a sense of the areas in your life that need the most attention.

You are looking for the area that can have a ripple effect in other areas, so the smallest thing can make the biggest difference.

The wheel lists segments of life such as career, family and friends, finances, romance, health, social, personal/spiritual development and physical environment, then asks you to reflect on each section, rating it on how satisfied and fulfilled you are.

The other key in successfully setting and achieving goals is not trying to do too much all at once.

Beginners should start with small steps. A trap for most is to overwhelm themselves with an "all or nothing approach", which ends in tears.

Start with one small change and work on that one thing for a week.

"Maybe it might be going for an evening walk, and change nothing else," Michelle suggests.

"Next week it might be to add to that by removing soft drinks."

Then it comes down to planning and commitment.

If you are going to set a goal, you need to be quite specific in the goal-setting process, but then even more so around the how, Suzy says.

"How are you actually going to implement that goal? The who, what, where? The real specifics about what days, in what situations?"

It's also important to understand situations that may trigger the behaviour you're trying to change.

This particularly applies to giving up smoking or drinking.

"If it's smoking or drinking in particular, or not exercising, sometimes it's people, sometimes it's places, so what are your trigger situations, where you're more likely to be tempted and to not stick to your goal?" Suzy asks.

"Proactively have a plan for how you're going to manage those situations. Some people avoid it, it's better for them to avoid it.

"But for others, it's just thinking or even visualising, how am I going to handle it if that person puts pressure on me to have a drink or to not exercise this week?

"It's all about proactivity and specifics, rather than just making a blanket goal to be healthier."

Suzy recommends setting goals over a three-month time frame, and then reassessing what you've been doing, looking at what has worked and what hasn't.

Then do more of what works, and change what does not.

If you have had stuff-ups or you have not stuck to your goals, come up with a plan, again being solution-focused as to how you are going to manage obstacles next time they come up.

Michelle recommends sitting down and formulating a plan that is realistic and achievable.

She's such a fan of planning that she's just released a new book, The Body Transformation Journal, which contains four 12-week blocks where you can record your progress and keep track of your fitness journey.

"Work out where you want to train," she says. "Lock it into your diary as an appointment. Aim for five to six times a week.

"Clean out your kitchen and get some easy recipes which you can work over and over till they become household staples.

"Get more activity back in your life like going for evening walks with your family.

"Think through all your excuses and find solutions to them. Perhaps get a training buddy for support."

If you have tried and failed to make changes in your life, the key is to be kind to yourself and review what you have been doing, then try a different tack.

"What we know is that if people beat themselves up, that makes them feel bad, negative emotions kick in, and that doesn't support motivation to continue," Suzy says.

"So you're better off not whipping yourself too hard or too badly, but just being solution-focused and saying, well, actually the process of change is quite challenging, let's focus on what I did well, what I've learnt about myself, and what I want to do for the next three months.

"And set another goal for the next three months, rather than the whole year."

Continuing to play the blame game keeps you in the safety net of not having to do anything, Michelle says, but it is not a happy or empowering place to be.

Feeling like you have to do everything all at once also is setting yourself up for failure.

"I know of clients who do this on purpose so that when they do fail they can go back to the 'I told you so' mentality, which keeps them safely in the place of not having to do anything," she says.

"It's self-sabotage 101. This is where food and exercise have absolutely nothing to do with it.

"It is a way of thinking. And that takes work. As much work as regular training.

"It's work, however, that will allow you to clear the fog and start to see a life with different and exciting possibilities."

If changing lifestyle factors is not your thing and you want to change jobs or careers in the new year, your best bet is… and here it is again… planning.

Making a job change involves people having to take actions that perhaps they have not taken before, Career Development Association of Australia national manager Greg Parker says.

If people feel like their career is at a standstill, there are a range of factors to consider before making a move.

"It depends on what people's objectives are, what their goals are, are they being blocked in their current career?" Greg says.

"It depends on the skills they hold and the skill gap they have to what other career they might be thinking about.

"It depends on their likes and dislikes, and whether they should be seeking to extend their current career elsewhere."

For anyone considering changing jobs, learning to love their current one is vital.

If you can learn to find the positives in your current position, it creates a more positive outlook.

"If you are going to look for alternative work, you're in a much better position to achieve that if you're displaying a positive outlook on the world," Greg says.

"If you go out there and you're negative against the world and negative about your current employer, it's likely most alternative employers are going to see that."

Planning your move is absolutely fundamental, he says.

"In times of skills shortages, which is apparent in some industries and professions today, particularly in the technical industry, employer-hopping is apparent, chasing the dollars.

"That's not necessarily recommended behaviour, but job change is likely to increase as industries experience skills shortages because the chance to improve your hourly rate increases.

"But you might end up with an employer that is a lot more stringent on getting bang for their buck, and you don't find that it's rewarding in a job satisfaction sense."

So, if you are going to job-hop, research your potential employer first to make sure you are going somewhere you'll enjoy the work associated with the extra dollar.

As Greg says, "If we spent the amount of time on planning our career as we do on social media, many people would find that they're actually going to solve a lot of what they perceive to be life problems, or at least help create the pathway to it."

Michelle's top five tips for getting started:

  Answer the question "What do I want?" You need to know where you are going in order to get there.

  Get real and honest with yourself. Start to do the work around why you buy into your excuses.

This is a lot of work and it takes time and guts and probably support along the way.

But, until this process starts and work on it continues, everything else goes down the drain.

  Make a plan that is realistic and achievable. That means it's something that you can do long term.

When I say long term, I'm talking about a new way of living.

  Get some support. It's not a deal-breaker, but supporters are worth their weight in gold.

Get organised.

Habits and routines are foolproof ways to achieve what it is you say you want. Consistency is king in my book.


Suzy's top five tips for making a change:

  •   Set a realistic start date, and maybe February is better but it's going to depend on the person and their timetable.
  •   Find your why. Why you're actually making a change. Explore how committed you are and what's really driving you to do it.
  •   Chunk down your goal into a realistic time frame. For some people a month might be better to trial it and reassess it. But generally I'd say three months max.
  •   Find your cheerleader. If you can afford it, engage a professional coach who belongs to a professional group. Some states and health funds offer free telephone coaching. Or find someone in your life who can be your cheerleader.
  •   Focus on what you've done well in the past that you can bring through. Play to your strengths. What are the things you do well that you can really leverage on to help you achieve the goal?