Podcast67: Why Resolutions Don’t Work (& What To Do Instead!)

Podcast67: Why Resolutions Don’t Work (& What To Do Instead!)

We kick of 2018 full of optimism, gratitude and excitement for the year ahead. After what was hopefully a nice Christmas break we all are raring to go, and apparently as many as 50% of us (myself included!) feel that customary urge to set some resolutions for the year ahead.

The top resolutions that we make (the 50% that do!) are; weight loss, exercise related, smoking/alcohol related and money related. So even as a broad estimate this suggests that 15% of the population in Ireland try to motivate themselves into better money management habits at the beginning of the year.

According to Professor John C. Norcross Ph.D of University of Scranton Psychology USA, 10% of all resolutions result in sustainable change. Pretty poor that therefore 90% of all resolutions crash and burn!

We are keen students and readers of all things performance, behaviour and success-related here. Never mind it's impact on how we deal with our money, the ability to perform, behave or succeed has such huge impact on our life and the lives of those around us. For this reason we decided to kick-off 2018 with something a little different (this will be a common theme to 2018!).

What Do Resolutions Look Like?

Resolutions are often very broad and sweeping statements, that's what we were thought! I will give us smoking. I will spend less money. I will clear my credit card. I will eat less Ben & Jerry Ice-Cream! They all sound worthy, they are all very well-intentioned, however they are all vague. There is no time line, no specific action, no measure as to whether it was a success, or way of measuring progress.

As a serial resolution-maker of maybe 10 years now I, for one, can confirm that they just don't work! Not only that but by the end of January I've probably passed the self-deprecating phase of under-performance and am firmly into the 'I actually didn't want to change' phase by March. By April it's 'I can't remember what my resolutions were' phase!!

A resolution is defined as a 'firm decision to do or not do something'. Essentially the above resolutions, or decisions to do or not do something are based on habits, smoking habits, eating habits, exercise habits, money habits. Habits as we all know can be very difficult to change, hence they are habits!

Why Do Resolutions Fail??

We've done quite a lot of reading on this, seems there are a few trains of thought we will share here now, that might prove useful if you are one of the 'resolutioners' who struggle with making progress on your resolutions! Take what you will from these, some may seem more credible than others, perhaps see which one sits best for you!

1) False-Hope-Syndrome: When we make resolutions we often aim too high relative to what we truly believe we can achieve! For example, If I'm eating 15 portions of junk-food/snack per week and I set a resolution for myself of cutting all junk-food from my diet, my internal dialogue/subconscious is already telling me (quietly!) that 'there's no way in hell you're going to be able to do this'!! We have all heard of false-hope, so essentially what this train of thought suggests is that some of the resolutions we set for ourselves are walking ourselves into it, and a confidence-bashing if/when we fail to reach the targets we set ourselves!

2) Cause & Effect: This idea stems from the suggestion that when we set a resolution, and we actually do the new habit for a period, that if we don't notice the desired effect immediately we can become de-motivated and fall back into old habits! So, lets say I decide I want to be 'better with my money'. If I watch my spending, open a savings account and start popping money in for a few weeks, and maybe even start contributing to that pension that I had been putting off. Well unless I get the desired feeling and feedback from having done that i am in high risk of cancelling the whole friggin' lot and going back to my old ways! We love feedback, we love knowing that what we are doing is having a positive impact and that we will be much better off as a result. If we don't get that feedback quickly we might fall off the wagon!

3) Self-Stories: This suggests that we ALL have internal self-stories, views on how we see ourselves living and behaving. This internal and mostly subconscious viewpoint determines much of our behaviours, habits and importantly our decisions. Your subconscious has predetermined, based on your self-stories and self-talk, what decision you will make when you are confronted by the choice between a salad or chips and burger for lunch on the 18th January!! It does also suggest however that we have the power to change our internal self-stories now. We can, through visualisation and goal-setting change how we see ourselves living and behaving. This is said to be one of the single most powerful tools in performing as we want to perform, to achieving what we want to achieve and in ultimately changing habits.

Say for example that you wanted to clear the debt you owe on a credit card. Up to now you had been slow to clear it, instead you have in the past made unnecessary purchases, clothes, cars and other items instead of actually clearing your debt. If you have been this way for years then your self-story will likely re-affirm for you that you are 'bad at clearing debt' and that you 'love to buy nice things instead'. That is your self-story, for you right now it seems true. However you can change that story....we can convince ourselves of a new self-story, one whereby we will see ourselves as 'great at paying off debts quickly' and 'able to resist impulse purchases easily'. When we are next faced with a decision about what to do with the €300 left in your bank account on the last day of the month, you are much more likely to act in a way that is congruent with your new self-story.....you'll most likely happily direct that money to your credit card as opposed to spending it in Arnotts!

What Could We Do Instead of Setting Resolutions?

If you have been setting them then the research suggests that you are very likely to have failed. That doesn't obviously mean you should quit resolutions (ironic!). However there is a lot of research out there that suggests we should not frame desired behaviour change as 'resolutions' for ourselves. Instead there are, for example, some really powerful goal-setting tools that we could use to help us get to where we want to get to. Instead of having a broad resolution such as 'I will get better with my spending habits', try and build a goal using the following framework, SMART.

Specific: Try and be as specific as possible about the behaviour/habit you want to create. Don't aim to do lots of things, focus on the really important thing for you. Pick one not 5!
Measurable: If it is not measurable in some way then it will be impossible to know if you are making progress (feedback)
Attractive: It must appeal to you, deep-down be of meaning to you. If not it will fall by the way-side when life gets in the way!
Realistic: It much be realistic, by all means make it stretching but not crazy stuff! (false-hope)
Timely: If you are aiming to be doing the new habit, by what date exactly do you want to be doing it, and for how many days/weeks in a row. Ideally aim to do whatever it is your doing within the next 3-5 months max, any longer and it is too easy to put if off until 'another time'!

Using the above tool (which has been around for centuries by the way, not my creation!) may just help turn a vague and broad resolution into a really appealing, measurable and sustainable goal to be achieved by a certain date in the near future.

What Else Might Help?

The research shows, and personally I believe it, that if your goal is written down then you are much much more likely to achieve it, whether it is a goal, a habit, a behaviour, the action of writing it down, and ideally being able to see it regularly will keep it at the fore-front of your mind, might help re-write your self-story, and enable you to do whatever it is you have set for yourself.

It's probably worth noting too that they suggest it takes 21 days to form a new habit. It's kinda hard to understand how they have measured this! Irrespective of how long it actually takes it's probably fair to say that when we set off on our quest to reach our goal we should be patient with ourselves, good things don't generally happen over-night....so expect it to take some time!

If we can be of any support to you over the year then by all means feel free to use us! If we can act as an accountability partner, or someone to check in with on soem queries then please do so...if we can help we will help.

Looking forward massively to a hugely fun and full 2018!

Paddy Delaney

QFA | RPA | APA | Qualified Coach

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