New Year, New You! | Daily News

New Year, New You!

Happy 2017! It’s good to see you again, when all the pages of the calendars are intact, when blank pages stare at you from diaries fresh from the printers, when even the sun’s rays seem new and fresh and the birds are chirping ‘happy new year’. What with this being the second day of this brand new year I know I am seeing you right on top of the world today.

I also know one reason you are so happy is because you can remember every single item on your list of new year’s resolutions - written on the first page under the ‘Notes’ section in your new diary, kept on a neatly arranged desk. You have already gone for your early morning walk, had your glass of kola kanda with two slices of brown bread, stayed away from Facebook prying into the lives of friends you have never met, and you know with unbreakable certainty from this evening onwards you will read the remaining chapters of ‘Ulysses’, ‘Brothers Karamazov’, ‘Midnight’s Children’ and the ‘English Patient’ until you reach the last page of each book. How do I know so much? Close your eyes and imagine that wide grin on Garfield’s face when he is in a good mood. That’s me, right now. I know, because I have done all these things you have done, too.

Would I still be grinning tomorrow, though, and the day after and the day after? Close your eyes again, please, and imagine Garfield in a bad mood. That would be me, this time two weeks from now. I know I would have returned to sleeping late and skipping the morning walk - mainly because the dogs around my neighbourhood don’t seem to think seeing me first thing in the morning is a good way to begin their day - eating white bread and strawberry jam for breakfast, logging into facebook for a quick look to count the number of likes my friend’s friend’s friend received for her last wall-post, secretly glad the diary I wrote my resolutions list is buried under a horde of manuscripts and newspapers on a cluttered desk. Kudos to you if you happen to be the sort of person who can stick to your new year’s resolutions till midnight on 31st December 2017, in which case you would be wasting your time reading the rest of this article. But, read away and join the club, if you, like me, can’t even remember all the items on your new year’s resolutions list, two weeks from today.

Sticking to New Year resolutions

After all, breaking new year’s resolutions is as old as making new year’s resolutions and dates back to the good old days of Babylon, doesn’t it? But why, oh why, can’t we stick to our resolutions?

For one thing, it looks like the numbers are not on our side. Research shows that only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually achieve their goals. To realize how true this is, all we have to do is think back to previous years-how many resolutions have we made that we have actually kept, long term? for most us, the answer is not many.

To further complicate things, it appears our brain is not on our side, either. The things that we resolve to do-exercise more regularly, eat a healthier diet, start something new-are exactly the habits psychology tells us are most difficult to adopt. They are the kinds of things we know we should do but struggle to motivate ourselves to actually do in the moment: I know I will feel better if I read Ulysses this evening, but Joyce is so hard to understand and reading an e-book for free on my kindle seems far more alluring even though intellectually I will gain nothing. According to psychologists, this paradoxical failure of will, the constant excuses we make, “I know this is good for me but I don’t want to do it right now” is called akrasia. Research has found that akrasia occurs particularly when activities have a delayed benefit. You won’t notice the benefits of taking that walk, this morning, but over time, your body will thank you. Needless to say, it is incredibly difficult for us to be motivated by delayed consequences precisely because they are not there clearly in front of us (whereas the strawberry jam and white bread are right in front of us, next to the brown bread and salt free butter).

Smart change

Experts say, while setting resolutions at the beginning of the new year can help us to see the benefits of changing our behavior more clearly, that boost is unlikely to last, because everyday life gets in the way.

But does it have to be this way?

Of course not. Art Markman, Professor of Psychology and the author of ‘Smart Change’ says, the reason that resolutions fail is that people don’t put in enough effort to allow them to succeed. “The things we resolve to change in our lives are generally the systematic failures in our lives. For instance, people often resolve to get in shape, stop smoking or drinking, or to get more serious about establishing a career. But even if you want to make a change, it is not easy to make systematic changes in your behavior. We have habits that get in the way of achieving our goals. We also have constructed an environment that supports our behavior and have surrounded ourselves with people who help us,” says Prof. Markman.

The best way to go about this, according to the professor is by focusing on positive goals rather than negative ones. To quote the professor, “A positive goal is an action we want to perform; a negative goal is something we want to stop doing. Our habits are memories of actions we perform in a particular situation. We can’t learn not to do something, so if we focus ourselves only on stopping behaviors, we will never develop new habits.”

Making realistic plans

We also need to make realistic plans for what we want to change about ourselves. For example, if we want to start going to the gym more often, it is not enough to say that we want to go to the gym three times a week. Where is that going to fit on our calendar? Instead, we need to pick specific days and add that to our agenda. Unless we get specific, we will have a hard time identifying all the obstacles that will get in our way. We could put the gym on our calendar Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. That is specific enough to give us a fighting chance of succeeding.

For all this, in spite of everything we know, we also know that we will surely fail, yet again. But the good news is there is also a positive spin we can put on this, because accepting that we will likely slip up at some point doesn’t mean we are catastrophic failures.

When we think about it, we can easily realize that our failures give us the chance to step back from our goal for a second and reflect on whether it is still important to us. As well as asking, “Why did I fail, and how can I prevent it from happening again?” sometimes it can be helpful to ask ourselves, “Why did I want to achieve this goal, again, this year too?”

It is also true, however that, in all likelihood, you are going to fail at keeping your New Year’s resolutions. Me too. And that is ok: because as all the sages say, if you ever try to do anything hard, you will inevitably have moments of struggle. The important thing is how you react to those failures-seeing them as an opportunity to get feedback, learn, and make a better plan two weeks from today.

Trust me, you will have the best year ever!


Tips to help you keep your new year’s resolutions

1. Make it something you really want. Don’t make it a resolution that you “should” want or what other people tell you to want. It has to fit with your own values.

2. Limit your list to a number you can handle.

3. Be specific.

4. Make a plan. Rather than stating one daunting goal, create a series of smaller steps to reach it.

5.Be patient with yourself! Remember that often change does not happen overnight. Your small, daily actions will bring about big changes. Consistency will be the key. Momentum creates momentum, and before you know it, you’ll realize that your small steps have had a snowball effect and have manifested big results. And remember to reward yourself for the smaller victories along the way!


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