- The Determination & the Shame
- The Most Important Midnight of the Year
- Why Are We so Bad at Sticking to a Decision?
- Look at the Micro Habits
- 11 Tips to Make Your 2024 New Year’s Decisions Stick
The Determination & the Shame
New Year’s Resolutions. We all know the mixed feelings – the determination and optimism accompanying a fresh start, as well as the shame of giving up – rattling all sorts of skeletons in our disorganized closets (that were supposed to get organized under last year’s resolutions but famously crashed and burned by day 4, showcasing our, at best, marginal housekeeping skills). But these three words also echo something beautiful – hope.
The Most Important Midnight of the Year
The psychologically most important midnight of the year – triggered by the symbolic “T-10” countdown – wipes the slate clean, bringing hope of a better life. We don’t need this glittery and champagne-d affair to change. We can decide on a rainy February Tuesday while sitting in the dark because we’ve forgotten to pay yet another electricity bill, or on a sticky July day – questioning our life choices after a particularly brave experiment with some street sushi. We can change at any time, but it doesn’t hurt to surf the collective energy wave of new beginnings. This is the power of ritual.
Why Are We so Bad at Sticking to a Decision?
80% of all 2024 decisions will have failed just months in, imploding back into old habits. Why do we fail to make our lives better? Do we choose to suffer? Maybe. Are we auto-destructive? Perhaps. Are we just disorganized and lacking actionable steps? Probably.
The truth is that we are human and we have a nature. A nature that served us well enough to survive as modern humans for about 300,000 years. But, that nature also thrives on creating habits as a matter of conserving energy. We need habits to automate some actions and literally turn a blind eye to parts of daily life to save energy for things that matter and can be potentially dangerous – the new, unexpected, and unexplored. If everything was important all the time – we’d go bonkers faster than that perfect tea-sipping temperature turns Polar. We need habits to survive and to sustain mental health, but it can just as easily turn bad as good.
Habits are far less expensive to the brain – the body’s largest energy consumer in proportion to its mass – than change. Robert Sapolsky, a professor of biology, neurology, neurological sciences, and neurosurgery at Stanford University (oh snap, Mr. Robert), believes that there is an underlying biological explanation behind every human action. Just remember a time when you had to change due to external circumstances – a move, a job change, or an unfamiliar city… This period of intense shift drained you, even if your daily life remained pretty much the same. It’s not you. It is nature itself we’re fighting here, adapting to the new in an area of life we had already categorized as safe, stable, and unchanging.
Change is difficult, and it takes time. Adaptation includes rewiring. We intuitively understand this energy drain and resist change unless not changing is immediately life-threatening. A lot of 2024 New Year’s resolutions concern improving health, well-being, and quality of life. We all want a better life for ourselves and know what we should do. So, why don’t we listen to our own good advice? Simple – the punishment for not changing is too far removed, + every time you repeat an action, it becomes more of an automated habit.
Look at the Micro Habits
So, good news! It is not a deep personality flaw that makes you unable to stick to a decision. Change is a larger and far less naive task involving changing our brain structures and transforming our nature. You just haven’t defined the steps to get where you want to go. Falling off the wagon is not due to a lack of willpower. We fail because we don’t look low enough – to the micro habits and processes in daily life, and we don’t recognize the moments that trigger us to take the easy way out and just do the same old, comfortable thing we’ve done a million times before. We slip right in like into a well-worn glove.
We fail because we try to see the end goal without specifying the steps in between. We leave things vague, we don’t determine the why-s behind the desire to change… Therefore, failing to stick to something we deem as valuable is a failure of processes, not personalities, and processes can be reinvented.
11 Tips to Make Your 2024 New Year’s Decisions Stick
Discipline is the meta-rule, and it will not be insulted by taking a number.
1. Start small.
We presume change has to be one huge bridge-burning festival to mark the transition into the whole “new year, new me” thing. Two weeks into January, that token gesture of de-junking the pantry is forgotten and we’ve scavenged the only bag of crisps that survived the de-junking. Start small. We can’t change everything at once. You’ll not become a keto masterchef in a matter of days, nor is it necessary. The next time you’re out grocery shopping, don’t put crisps in the cart. This is doable. This is a start.
2. Switch habits.
Have you noticed how easy it is to backslide? This is because the old habit doesn’t disappear. It gets replaced by a new one that needs to be repeated long enough so it takes root as a long-term behavior change. We can rarely just stop doing something without allocating that time, impulse, and/or dopamine hit to something else.
3. Start with “Why”.
As suggested by the writings of Simon Sinek, in the context of how good leaders initiate change – we can apply the method of starting from the right reasons here. When the going gets tough – and it will – we’ll need our “Why” to pull us through because the “Why” justifies the suffering or inconvenience of the change. Or, if you’re so inclined, use the “Why” as a reminder of a place you’re terrified of if the old habit continues.
4. Be humble.
It is not easy to admit how laughably small the first steps have to be for us to be willing to stick to them. It is embarrassing to admit to oneself how deep we have to dig for a tiny improvement, but we start where we do what we can with what we have.
5. Focus on things you do daily first.
As Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychologist and author, suggests – if you wish to change your life and current circumstance, transforming a few small everyday habits will be more valuable in a year than changing a big thing you do occasionally. Why? Because what we do every day takes up a disproportionately large part of our life. Bonus: success in sticking to the little things will give us motivation to expand our efforts – now with the confidence we have earned and can trust ourselves with.
6. Be patient.
Just like Mr. Mercury, most of the time, we too “want it all, and want it now.” There is a learning curve. There will be mistakes. Adopt a mindset of someone willing to be taught (and helped). Be okay with a larger timeframe. Imagine what just one evening of disciplined care for the body a week will do in a year. That’s 52 days you were kind to yourself. Imagine just staying calm as your buttons get pushed. Would you be a different sister, mother, daughter, brother, or boss?
7. Don’t beat yourself up.
So what if we sometimes bite off a bit more than we can chew? Spit some out and take a smaller bite. Be kind to yourself as you’re going through the transformation, there will be good days and bad days and life will throw curve balls we just couldn’t have predicted while making the plan. Respect the process. Do as the Borg do – adapt. Resistance – to the fickle nature of reality – is futile.
8. Plan the time and place.
Put your time where your mouth is. For a greater chance of success, it would be wise to determine not only WHAT we want to change but WHEN and WHERE the steps will take place. Replace the nonspecific “I’ll walk more” with the pinpointed – “I’ll take a walk after my lunch every day.” This has more power, and the action is tied to another thing we do daily.
9. Get support.
Find your sista’ from another (or the same) mista’ and share the details of your plan. Make a deal for them to check in and see if you kept your word. It’s weird, but it works – we’d rather not disappoint someone else, not feel shame due to lame excuses, or lie to someone we care about. Or do a penalty clause if you respond to punishment better.
10. Have fun.
Seriously. We forget to have fun. The decision is not a prison of our own design. We can find something beautiful in a new habit or way of doing things that bring us joy. Eating healthier is not a boring, lonely, wilted salad leaf you need to force down your throat. Just explore the cornucopia of recipes out there you’ve never tried. Food is the creativity you can taste.
11. Get back on the wagon.
You fell off. So what? No reason for woe-is-me drama. It won’t go on without you. It is YOUR freaking wagon. Learn from this, find what the trigger was, and climb back on. Even riding into a sunset blinds us sometimes, and our behinds can get numb on the rough wagon seats. Bring a cushion and stop to stretch your legs from time to time.
No matter how small and insignificant the change may seem to the observer, we can be proud of ourselves for every single step forward. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the difficulty of uprooting habits to plant new, better ones is either lying or oblivious to their shortcomings and doomed to stagnation.
From all of us at MYSA, we hope we will all be kinder to ourselves. We hope for enough sense to admit when we don’t know and when we need to break things down… or just take a break. We hope you’ll choose small improvements and that hope for a better life always stays here, giving us something to aim at. Happy transitions! See you on the flip side.