Remembering the purpose underlying our resolution gives us the strength to push through
It is that time of the year when we start working, with much enthusiasm, on our new year resolutions, hoping to reinvent ourselves. Research, however, suggests that by 8 January, one week from the start of the year, 25% of new year resolutions will most likely fall apart, and by the time the year ends, we will most probably end up returning to our old routines and rituals.
Most new year resolutions fail because behavioural change is hard, especially when we are busy, stressed and distracted—the default work mode for millennials.
There are six practical ways that can help us commit to our new year resolutions.
First, instead of trying to change all habits at once, we should focus on one habit and work towards micro-improvements.
After analysing all the years I failed to fulfil my resolutions, I realized I wanted to change too much too soon. In Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges, psychologist Amy Cuddy advocates for “self-nudging", a process of constantly setting small goals in place of large ones.
Instead of aspiring to be a new person by March, I should have followed the advice of Atomic Habits author James Clear and focused on becoming 1% better every day. Micro-improvements compound over time to deliver incredible results.
Last year, I wanted to read more research papers and connect with scientists in different fields. To make that happen, I decided to read a page a day. Initially, I found it challenging but the daily habit helped me meaningfully connect with researchers around the world.
Second, add friction and make it difficult to continue practising bad habits. One resolution I couldn’t achieve last year was being able to take guilt-free breaks from technology. I found it impossible to switch off. I realized that I was obsessively checking my emails and notifications only because my phone was around. I had allowed my attention to be hacked.
From the last week of December, I have been charging my phone in the living room at night, making it slightly more difficult to check it for notifications. While it is too early to celebrate, my screen time has reduced and sleep quality has improved.
The reverse of this is also true. When we wish to pursue a good habit, we must make it impossible to ignore and easy to follow.
Third, focus on the process and behaviour, not the end result. Most of our new year resolutions are framed by negativity. We tend to course correct things we dislike about ourselves—our weight, attention span, Netflix bingeing. This can demotivate us even before we get started.
Specific goals are important, but they don’t deliver results by themselves. Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, studied daily routines of creative geniuses in art, music and literature and concluded that almost all of them had elaborate rituals and routines that propelled them to meet their goals. The key insight for all of us is that the success or failure of new year resolutions strongly correlates with our habits.
Fourth, warm up. Unless we start making subtle changes to our habits and rituals four-six weeks in advance, 1 January will turn out to be just like any other day. A head start towards our new year resolution also allows us to experiment, tinker and fail without feeling too guilty.
Fifth, find a peer coach to track your resolutions. Being accountable to someone pushes us to be consistent with our efforts.
Lastly, keep the deeper purpose of your resolution in mind. While most resolutions are about body health and external signalling, the ones that actually work have a clear sense of why. There will be days when things go awry and we feel like abandoning our resolutions. Remembering the purpose underlying our resolution will give us the strength to push through.
Progress is a great motivational force. By taking pride in micro-improvements, we will be setting ourselves up for success.
Utkarsh Amitabh is founder of Network Capital, a global peer mentoring community and a WEF Global Shaper.